The Purge: Election Year

Director: James DeMonaco (2016) BBFC cert:

In these turbulent post-Brexit political times, I’m casting my vote in favour of this gleefully violent satirical action thriller.

This third in the low budget and highly succcessful US series is set in the year 2022.

Frank Grillo returns as the bullish and brutal cop with a conscience, Leo Barnes. He is now head of security to Elizabeth Mitchell‘s Senator, Charlie Roan.

She’s standing for President to abolish the Purge, the annual night of chaos where for one night all law is suspended and murder is legal.

The event makes the ruling far-right wing party a lot of money. As such the New Founding Fathers see the Purge as the ideal opportunity to have Roan permanently removed from the ballot paper.

They suspend the rules protecting political figures, a short sighted decision which seems destined to backfire.

A betrayal by one of the senator’s team leaves Roan and Barnes on the streets of Washington D.C. at the height of The Purge.

Citizens are tortured, burnt, shot, hung and guillotined. No one stops to eat, drink or sleep and the tension rises with the body count.

Costumed crazies rampage through the neon lit streets like a garish halloween party with chainsaws and machine pistols.

As Roan battles to survive, she finds allies in shotgun wielding shopkeepers and veteran Purge night players. They’re motivated from a desire to see the senator win the election.

But as the night progresses they discover they’re not the only group trying to smash the system.

There’s manic rhetoric, an asset stripping government exploiting religion for politic gain and state sanctioned slaughter on the streets.

The satirical intent is somewhat neutered by the astonishing real life US Presidential electoral race taking place. But as an action movie The Purge: Election Year is the candidate that ticks the right boxes.


Kids In Love

Director: Chris Foggin (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This sunny British coming of age drama has the blissed-out colour saturation of a London lifestyle commercial. And is populated by characters of a similar emotional depth.

It’s a big step down for Will Poulter after his excellent playing alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the Oscar winning The Revenant (2016).

He’s curiously lethargic as Jack, a gap year student who gives up his trip to South America when he falls in with a wealthy bohemian crowd.

The charity chugger rejects his secure middle class background and future law career to pursue his passion for photography and a flaky French beauty called Eveleyn.

Model turned actress Alma Jodorowsky gives an uneven performance and generates an alarming lack of chemistry opposite Poulter.

Evelyn has a shady boyfriend and lives in a large shared house with a group of carefree bright young things who spend their time in the capital’s cafes, clubs and street festivals.

They’re played with a nicely judged light comic touch by Preston Thompson, Gala Gordon and Cara Delevingne.

Though the latter is on far more animated form than her lamentable turn in recent super hero disaster Suicide Squad (2016), her performance is really more of an extension of her carefully cultivated public image than a dramatic role.

These are adults not kids and there’s not much love between them.



Gary Numan: Android In LA LA Land

Director:Rob Alexander, Steve Read (2016) BBFC cert: 15

1970s synth rock superstar Gary Numan is the very human subject of this refreshingly candid and entertaining documentary.

We follow the surprisingly engaging singer as he decamps from England to LA to reboot his career in the internet era.

A meteoric rise aged 21 with global hits such as Cars and Are Friends Electric? was followed by years in the industry wilderness, massive financial problems and a fall out with his manager, his dad.

Super-fan wife Gemma proves a dab hand with a soldering iron as she keeps their three daughters entertained in their new home. In true rock god style it looks like a castle.

Numan talks with endearing humour and self awareness about the challenges of performing live while coping with Aspergers, depression and anxiety attacks. And the music sounds electric.



Swallows And Amazons (2016)

Director: Philippa Lowthorpe (2016) BBFC cert: PG

There’s a steady hand on the tiller of this handsomely crafted old fashioned family adventure.

It’s a sincere adaption of Arthur Ransome’s classic childrens book, though the liberties it takes with the plot don’t hold much water.

Setting out a steady pace, the sailing sequences are impressively staged. It paints a picture of privileged England at play in a gorgeous rural setting.

It’s 1935 and in the looming shadow of the Second World War, Mrs. Walker takes her baby and four children to the Lake District farmhouse for the summer.

Kelly McDonald plays mother to young actors Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen and Bobby McCulloch. They are are an enthusiastic, fresh faced, well scrubbed bunch who seem to be sporting a vintage nautical range from the Boden catalogue.

The four children embark in their small boat, the Swallow, and head off to Undiscovered Island to camp for a few days.

Once there they feud with the children of another boat, the Amazon. Sporting home-made masks and pirate costumes, the bickering sisters also have a claim to the island. But they join forces when the Amazon’s mysterious uncle is kidnapped.

Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen as the younger sister Tatty is the stand out performer. Her name was changed from the novel’s Titty, to prevent titters.

Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are unfairly given top billing above the kids. In a silly espionage plot not in the novel, they play a pair of spies engaging in a game of cat and mouse about the lake.

Jessica Hynes and Harry Enfield gently spar as Mr and Mrs Jackson, the bucolic owners of the Walker’s holiday farmhouse.

The orchestral soundtrack enforces a bracing tone of jolly derring do, soaring with as many peaks as offered by the glorious countryside.

There’s a refreshing absence of CGI and an empahsis on outdoor activity as the kids learn how to make fire and pitch a tent. They also swim, fish and star gaze.

Swallows And Amazons is a pleasant enough time spent messing about on the water. And if it encourages kids to aspire to technology free activities, then it’s all the more welcome for that.


Lights Out

Director:David F. Sandberg (2016) BBFC cert: 15

With slamming doors and shrieking spectres, the only scares this haunted house horror offers are its damnably shocking politics.

Teresa Palmer heads up the  likeable cast who all put in an efficient shift. She plays twenty-something Rebecca who lives next to a tattoo parlour.

She goes to the rescue of her step brother Martin and mother Sophie who are plagued whenever the lights go out by a hissing harpy, called Diana.

Young Gabriel Bateman looks suitably terrified and Mario Bello gives a fidgety performance, befitting of a character off their meds in a major way.

Diana is a long haired monster with superhuman strength but who burns in the light. The victim of a skin condition and medical malpractice, the harpy is obsessed with Sophie, her one time fellow psychiatric patient. The ghoul spends a lot of time scratching her name into floorboards and removing lightbulbs.

Having destroyed the adult male relationships in Sophie’s life, Diana now threatens Rebecca’s blossoming romance with a leather jacketed hunk.

At the heart of the Light’s Out paranoia is a conservative heterosexual male fear of lesbian threat to the traditional nuclear family.

Named after the goddess of love, Diana represents the coercive power lesbians are perceived to be able exert on ‘normal’ society. She is an obsessive, violent, ugly, deranged family destroying bogey-woman. It’s a regressive view bang in tune with current right wing rhetoric.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is I’ll never have to suffer this nonsense again.


The Childhood Of A Leader

Director: Brady Corbet (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

A powerful tone poem more interested in character than plot or historical detail, this is a period drama framed as a horror movie.

It’s an impressive directorial debut by American Brady Corbet who also wrote and produced. The Childhood Of A Leader received its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival where it won Best Debut film and Best Director.

Former pop star Scott Walker provides a blisteringly percussive avant-garde soundtrack, the photography is hauntingly beautiful and the design is rich with period texture. All of which contribute to the heavy atmosphere of foreboding.

But the oblique storytelling is as frustrating as it is compelling.

Young Brit actor Tom Sweet is impressively controlled and angry as a young boy whose  experience in France have tragic repercussions.

Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham are icily convincing as emotionally distant parents who find the behaviour of their angelic looking son increasingly difficult to handle.

Stacy Martin and a bearded Robert Pattinson add to the fetid domestic atmosphere. The former plays a language teacher with more than one admirer and the latter appearing as a journalist.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the boy’s stern father is part of the American negotiating team to the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.

Humiliated, deceived and punished, the boy absorbs the lessons of manipulation and control. His character is a reflection of the European political theatre and the disastrous consequences of his father’s failings at work are repeated and magnified in his son.



Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Director: David Lowery (2016) BBFC cert: PG

A soaringly sentimental adventure in the best Disney tradition, this fabulous family fable is a superior beast to the 1977 version.

This seamless combination of live action and state of the art CGI has sky high production values wrapped around its large loving heart and a story devoted to the values of family and friendship.

Kids will love the outdoorsy adventure and parents will have a surreptitious emotional moment behind their 3D glasses.

Oakes Fegley is wonderfully endearing as the eleven year old orphan Pete who lives in the forest with his best friend Elliot, a friendly dragon. The creature looks and acts like a giant green pet dog. Only with wings and the ability to breathe fire.

Elliot is Pete’s surrogate parent and protector, a King Kong sized Mary Poppins who has the power to turn invisible. Pete is a wild boy of the woods, a distant cousin of Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (2016).

The immensely likeable Bryce Dallas Howard appears as Grace, a kindly Forest Ranger who doesn’t believe in dragons but does want to solve the mystery of Pete’s parents.

After starring in last year’s monster smash Jurassic World (2015) the actress is no stranger to working with enormous CGI beasts. They’re provided here by WETA Digital who won Oscars for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003).

Robert Redford’s craggy avuncular charm is put to good use as Grace’s father, a man who claims to have once encountered a flying lizard.

Though set in USA, the tale is filmed in the lush and mystical mountains of New Zealand.  Kiwi actor Karl Urban stars as not especially villainous lumber mill owner Gavin. Discovering dragons are real, he wants to capture Elliot. But in trying to save Elliot, Pete risks losing his best friend forever.

It’s essential to the films success we believe the legendary dragon exists and so the film-makers have created a sense of mythic timelessness.

Elliot has a broken tooth and a scar, suggesting a creature of maturity and personal history. Interior scenes captured in a semi-sepia tone are sympathetic to the lush brown and green exteriors evocative of the myths of King Arthur.

Contributing also is the 1980s setting which sidesteps the issue of google optimised smart-phones. A folksy soundtrack is an appropriate and sensitive choice as themes of grief and reconciliation are tackled head on.

The result is we’re wrapped up in this huge warm hug of a movie much like Pete is by Elliot’s shaggy coat of hair. Take a flight on the wings of  Pete’s Dragon and you will believe he exists.


The Shallows

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (2016) BBFC cert: 15

A personal crisis turns becomes a fight for survival in this exhilarating thriller.

Attacked by a shark while surfing from a secluded Mexican beach, Texan tourist Nancy is stranded on a rock as the deadly killer circles her.

As her hopes ebb and flow, the resourceful med student also has to contend with sunstroke, dehydration, exhaustion and a serious wound.

Hindering her escape attempts are aggressive seagulls, stinging coral, crabs, jelly fish, riptides and razor edged rocks.

A far better surfer than I am, Blake Lively anchors the storming action. She gives a terrific, fiercely physical performance with a deep emotional undercurrent.

Best known as the star of TV’s Gossip Girl, this should put her firmly on the Hollywood map.

The streamlined script keep us hanging on by our fingertips and the tremendous cinematography captures the dangerous energy of the surf. And the shark is awesome.



Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates

Director: Jake Szymanski (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Head to Hawaii for raunchy raucous fun in this sweet natured and bad taste comedy.

Adam DeVine and Zac Efron are unerringly convincing as idiotic party loving brothers, Mike and Dave Stangler with a reputation for causing chaos at family shindigs.

To ensure their sister’s nuptials in Hawaii are a drama-free affair, their Dad demands they find a pair of ‘nice’ women as dates.

Mike and Dave think they’ve struck gold with hedge fund manager Alice and teacher Tatiana, an intelligent, charming and pretty pair. But they’re really unemployed waitresses out for a free holiday and up for a good time.

Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza are a sleazy, sweet and sexy blast and the film powers wantonly along whenever they’re on screen, stealing the film from the supposed leads.

As their facade dissolves in booze, drugs and sex, the boys must mature to ensure the wedding goes ahead.

The tone and jokes are typical of most of Efron’s recent output and yes, among the sex jokes he appears topless and sings and dances. However this is on a par with the enjoyable Bad Neighbours 2 (2016) rather than the woeful Dirty Grandpa (2016).

The former film traded on the idea feminism has allowed girls to act as badly as boys if they so choose. This follows a similar path with the girls on top as they out-party the boys at every turn.



Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Shulman (2016) BBFC cert: 15

A high risk game of dare puts the life of a high school student at stake in this zippy and intelligent techno-thriller.

Despite being directed by the makers of the woeful third and fourth movies in the Paranormal Activity franchise, Jessica Sharzer’s sometimes heavy handed script unexpectedly provides a timely critique of the dangerous power of the internet.

There’s a focus on data theft and online anonymity which magnifies malign peer pressure and allows for cowardly cyber bullying.

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are thrown together after signing up to play the latest social media craze, Nerve. Strangers pay to watch online as Vee and Ian compete for followers.

Filming themselves on smartphones as they perform increasingly outrageous dares for greater amounts of cash, the pair thrill to the instant celebrity, money, romance and adrenalin rush the game provides,

But as kissing escalates to tattoos, theft and violence, the duo find the potential of rich rewards are countered by dire consequences for those who try to leave the game.

As the action powers about the nighttime streets of New York, the charm and chemistry of the leads are maximised as they bounce pleasingly off each other.

It’s great to see Juliette Lewis back on screen albeit in a slight and underwritten role as Vee’s mother. Emily Meade and Miles Heizer offer solid support as Vee’s friends.

Sadly the script short circuits towards the end with a couple of gags shamelessly stolen from a couple of rather more successful cinematic gamblers.