The Day Shall Come 2019 ****

The-Day-Shall-Come

Chris Morris is Britain’s most scabrous working satirist, and is probably best known as the creator of The Day Today, a parody of both news and news reporting that’s yet to be bettered. For his first feature, Four Lions, Morris attempted to make comedic hay from the idea of an incompetent terrorist cell, and it’s to his credit that he managed to make something that was much more than just a few gags on a topical theme. His follow-up, arriving almost a decade later, has a similar notion at its centre; outsiders in their Miami community, Moses (Marchant Davis) and his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks)struggle to make ends meet until an opportunity comes their way; to hide some guns…

Of course, guns are just the starts of Moses’s absurd journey, which brings him to the attention of Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), and her FBI team, who are keen to nab prospective terrorists in the act by feeding them bogus information and equipment, then sending in the SWAT teams after the misguided participants press the nuclear button. This is, Morris’s film makes clear, entrapment, and what‘s being entrapped is not ideological terrorists, but the poor. The Day Shall Come has good fun with Moses’s weird beliefs, and his understanding that blowing a small horn might just conjure dinosaurs out of the earth; the point is that Moses is just a misguided individual, and has no idea that his own brand of idiocy might make him vulnerable to being a political dupe.

There’s a certain brand of modern satire, via In The Loop, Veep and The Death of Stalin, that relies on absurd swearing tropes, convoluted insults and all characters speaking thinly disguised locker-room talk to fill in between the actual jokes; The Day Shall Come is admirable in that it rarely stoops to crude gags. Instead, Morris mines a ridiculous situation to great effect, with vibrant central performances and a fun, prissy support-turn from Kendrick.

“Next thing you’ll know, the Statue of Liberty will be wearing a burkha and we’ll be beheading Bruce Springsteen,’ one of Glack’s team observe, but the stakes are carefully defined in Morris’s intelligent, trenchant comedy. America is not under attack from outside, but from within, by those who seek to profit and further themselves by creating enemies from outside. It’s a laudable, modern sentiment, and fully articulated by the Ace In The Hole finale that Morris creates with genuine cinematic verve.

The Goldfinch 2019 *****

goldfinch

Everything you’ve heard about The Goldfinch is wrong. Or at least, the slew of negative articles about John Crowley’s adaptation of Donna Tartt’s bestseller only tell part of the story. Those who are unfamiliar with Tartt’s uniquely porcelain prose, or her wonderfully wandering, lyrical storytelling style, must find a film version of The Goldfinch must be a confounding experience, and one that provides a rare opportunity to take a sky kick at corporate behemoth Amazon, whose Amazon Studios label co-produced this prestigious film. But amongst the articles crowing about the potential amount of money lost, and gawping at film-makers who dare to turn their vision to white privilege, there’s a secret truth about Crowley’s film; it’s a meticulous, beautifully mounted adaptation that deserves an audience.

The Goldfinch is about a boy, Theodore Decker, played by Oakes Fegley and then by Angel Elgort. At the age of 13, Decker sees his mother killed in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and staggers from the chaos with a copy of a rare painting of a Goldfinch in his rucksack. Despite gravitating towards the mother of a friend (Nicole Kidman) and an antiques dealer (Jeffrey Wright), Decker is sent in Dickensian fashion to stay with his errant father (Luke Wilson) and his partner (Sarah Paulson) in a semi-constructed suburb of Las Vegas. A drug-addled friendship with a young Russian (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) provides Decker with some much-needed relief, but the painting remains a secret, a connection with his mother that Decker finds impossible to let go of.

Condensing a 600 page novel into a script is a tough assignment, and Peter Straughn’s work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Wolf Hall marked him out as a perfect candidate for the job. He finds an ideal ally in cinematographer Roger Deakins, who brings a stark clarity to the film, which buzzing lights in the background suggesting another world just out of reach. And Crowley is a uniquely sensitive director, able to capture the uncertainty of Decker as a boy and a young adult, and to make his struggle with grief accessible.

Sensation seekers need to apply for a finely wrought film like The Goldfinch; there’s no explanation for the bombing, and the resolution is deliberately satisfying in a thematic rather than a crowd-pleasing way. Opening against Hustlers, one of the few adult orientated films of 2019, was probably the final nail in the coffin for The Goldfinch theatrically, but those who ignore the general disapproval may well be surprised; it’s a first rate film.

Angel Has Fallen 2019 ****

angel-has-fallen-1

Mike Banning (Gerry Butler) is a burnt-out case. His health is failing, his emotional range is narrowing, he barely recognises his own wife. Of course, that could be because she’s not played by the same actress (Radha Mitchell) as in the first two films, Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, but Banning’s loyalty to the President is unshakable. Aaron Eckhart clearly didn’t fancy a third outing either, so Morgan Freeman is hurriedly sworn in as Commander In Chief Allan Trumbull for Ric Roman Waugh’s cheeky and entertaining film. Trumbull comes under attack from an airborne army of explosive drones, and in the eyes of the authorities, Banning is linked to this treasonous act of terrorism. Fleeing the scene, Banning hides out with his estranged dad, played by Nick Nolte in a full Yosemite Sam/Dirty Santa/prospector peeing–through-his-knee length beard get-up (‘I don’t do medication,’ says Nolte, in a knowing wink to the audience). Banning and his dad set out to find out who was responsible, while FBI agent Jada Pinkett Smith is in hot pursuit in the style of The Fugitive. Although various personnel have jumped ship, Angel Has Fallen is easily the best of the trilogy, and arguably Butler’s best action film yet. Decent support (Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson) and improved action scenes including a truck chase through a forest, and a slam-bang shoot-out in a high-tech hospital climax that really deliver the goods. And hewn-from-granite leading man Butler is the happy centre that a straight-forward action movie requires; lily-livered liberal film critics may scoff, but a big man, a big gun and instant justice will make Angel Has Fallen a guilty pleasure for all sides of the political spectrum.

Mission Impossible: Fallout 2018 *****

mission

The Mission Impossible formula has improved with each film, to the point where Rogue Nation was a franchise high. About the only problem with Fallout is that it replicates the elements of the previous film so specifically, but that’s hardly a problem when a perfect summer blockbuster is the result. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is once again thrown into the action against Solomon Lane (Sean Ellis, last seen being dropped into a glass cube in the previous film). For reasons that are deliberately confusing to explain, Hunt inveigles his way into a terrorist organisation and win the contract to burst his nemesis out of jail. The heist scene, set in Paris, is brilliantly foreshadowed by a scene in which Hunt imagines the consequences of failure; unlike most blockbusters, Fallout sets the stakes, personal and political, at a high level, and all the action, including grandstanding foot, motorbike and helicopter chases, is more intense as a result. The spy-games keep you guessing until a lavish denouement set in the mountains, with rapid toggling between ratios reflecting the influence of Chris Nolan. Chris McQuarrie does a great job here, mixing intrigue, suspense and humour with the deftness of a classic Hollywood film.

Nighthawks 1980 ***

images-4

Riding high on the back of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone didn’t find a second franchise until First Blood; Nighthawks was originally planned as a French Connection sequel until it was tailored to Stallone’s tough guy persona. Directed by Bruce Malmuth, Nighthawks sees NYC cop Deke DaSilva tracking down ruthless terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), with assistance from Billy Dee Williams and the late Nigel Davenport. Nighthawks is a good little action film, not overblown and with some tense sequences, including a nightclub shootout and a memorably efficient ending. Wulfgar’s character is particularly interesting with a clinical rationale for his actions and a belief that his brand of terrorism equals liberation in the long run. He gets short shrift from a bearded Stallone, making for a gripping, involving cat and mouse game.

Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry 2001 ***

Unknown-4

If the title is strange, the remainder of Peter Tickel’s 2000 film is equally bizarre, adapted from the cult novel by BS Johnson to shocking, often amusing affect. Nick Moran is Christy Malry, a mild-mannered mother’s boy who makes his living in London as an accountant. He devises a book-keeping trope in which he attempts to balance the wrongs and rights of society, and takes things into his own hands with explosive results in the style of Fight Club. Shirley Ann Field plays Christy’s mother, and the whole thing has a prescient, pre September 11th feel, with Tickel’s film quite ambivalent about Malry’s destructive plans. An unconventional, visionary work, there are obvious reasons why this film was not seen by mainstream audiences, but lovers of the arcane will be fully rewarded for seeking it out. Music by Luke Haines.

Wrong Is Right 1982 ***

Unknown-2

Also known as The Man With The Deadly Lens, writer/director Richard Brooks adapts a novel by Charles McCarry called The Better Angels. Sean Connery stars as TV newsman Patrick Hale, who discovers that two stolen nuclear bombs in suitcase are the catalyst for an exploration of late 70’s geopolitics that eerily predates the Iraq war; even the World Trade Centre finds itself under threat. The intention of Brooks’ film is satirical, but amidst the escalating absurdity, Wrong Is Right does a good job in nailing sociological tends in both media and politics, presumably the reason this film is so rarely seen.