The First Monday In May

Director: Andrew Rossi (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Ever since Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was satirised by Glenn Close in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) she has been aggressively addressing her public image.

Following in the well heeled footsteps of Vogue documentary The September Issue (2009) and her cameo in Zoolander 2 (2016), comes this immaculately attired documentary about her charity fund raising.

It’s an inside look at the build up to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art annual Met Gala, is held on first Monday in May. The star-studded event is a multi-million dollar fundraiser for the museums fashion wing, the Costume Institute.

The glitzy evening is also the opening night of the Institute’s Spring exhibition. Titled China: Through the Looking Glass, it focuses on the influence of the orient on western fashion.

Our backstage British guide is the engaging chief curator Andrew Bolton. A charming Lancashire lad who wears his trousers ever slightly too short.

Bolton and Wintour demonstrate great knowledge, passion and enthusiasm as they trip arm in arm through delicate negotiations with the Chinese, financial issues, creative conflicts, building delays and a monumental seating plan.

Interviews with designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano provide support to their occasionally fluffy endeavours.

Fashionistas will simply adore the many fabulous outfits and the film successfully argues that haute couture deserves to join high art in the most prestigious galleries.

But despite her best efforts, Wintour’s carefully crafted public persona fails to disguise her disdain for the general public.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Free State Of Jones

Director: Gary Ross (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Matthew McConaughey is the Hollywood romcom star who so successfully reinvented his career he won an Oscar. In only his third leading role since his 2014 success in Dallas Buyers Club, he gives a brooding and impassioned performance in this high minded American civil war drama.

What begins as an exciting action movie develops into a sincere and somber look at how the wealthy white elite kept their grip on the lives of freed slaves when the fighting stopped.

Newton Knight is a confederate deserter who leads of an insurrection during the American civil war. McConaughey hides his leading man looks behind long hair and a ragged beard, mostly saving his charm for Rachel. The underused British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw does well to bring depth to her role as a slave who joins his band of outlaws as they hide out in the local swamp.

The two leads ensure it’s always watchable and there’s no shortage of battles, burnings, hangings and evil deeds by the Ku Klux Klan. But brief flash forwards to a court room drama involving Knight’s great great grandson muddy the narrative flow, and the story becomes mired in the Mississippi swamp.

Although the film is keen to flag up its the accuracy of its historical accuracy via contemporary photographs and on screen captions, Knight is presented as an unrealistic combination of Robin Hood, Che Guevara and Jesus Christ.

As a revolutionary socialist who preaches from from a bible, Knight inspires slaves, farmers and women to take arms against the powerful and the rich. They declare themselves the free State of Jones.

However as Knight moves from pacifist medical orderly to merciless killer and then political activist, he suffers from an alarming lack of self reflection and none of his horrific experiences seem to affect him. And if he isn’t moved by what he sees, there’s no reason why we should be.

@ChrisHunneysett

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Step inside the latest dark fantasy from the macabre mind of Tim Burton. Based on the best selling novel by Ransom Riggs, the director’s gothic sensibility has been fused with the superhero stylings of X-Men screenwriter Jane Goldman to create a clanking automaton of insufficient heart or electric thrills.

Whether this is an exhausted creative reaching for his reliable stock in trade ideas to get the job done or a potentially career fatal exercise in barrel scraping, Miss Peregrine’s Home makes for a great game of Tim Burton bingo.

There is a young lonely outsider of estranged parents, a kindly grandfather figure, suburbia is given its regular beating, pastel shades denote danger and sports are used as shorthand for idiocy, Visually there is elaborate topiary in the shape of dinosaurs, a scissor handed puppet is given life and a circus ring features in the finale. House!

The Birds (1963), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Time Bandits (1981) and Brigadoon (1954) are among the many other films drawn upon for inspiration.

The plot is not so far away from any X-Men movie, honestly, pick any one you want. An outsider discovers a hidden school for specially gifted children ran by a powerful mentor. Nazi experiments in genetics are hinted at the cause of the ‘peculiars’ special powers.

Despite antagonism from some pupils he eventually joins forces in defending the school against their enemies. Along the way hidden talents are discovered and lessons of reaching ones full potential are received. The End.

Talented  and likeable Brit Asa Butterfield plays Jake, a modern 16-year old American teenager who visits Wales and discovers a time loop where it’s still 1943. Wales is a modern and forward looking country so I’ll not be making any cheap gags here. Despite being replaced on screen by Cornwall, Wales is made to look magical.

Hidden inside the time loop is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, where the never ageing pupils live the same day over again. Each child has their own peculiarity such as invisibility, great strength or pyrokinesis. Ella Purnell plays the angelic Emma who has to wear lead boots to stop her floating away.

Eva Green gives a wonderfully eccentric turn as the pipe smoking housemistress Miss Peregrine, a glamorous combination of Mary Poppins and Morticia Adams. As well as creating the time loop to protect her young charges from their fearful enemies, she can transform into a peregrine falcon and is a deadly shot with a crossbow.

Her home is only one of may such time protected hideaways and all are threatened by The Hollows, monsters lead by the evil Mr. Barron. With sharklike teeth and a white wig, Samuel L. Jackson matches Green’s performance and the film is energised by his belated appearance.

A bevy of English actors add their name to the film poster. Dame Judi Dench flies through her cameo, Rupert Everett sports binoculars and an alarming accent. Terence Stamp and Chris O’Dowd play Jake’s grandfather and father.

There’s plenty of handsomely designed spectacle adorned with a dash of romance and odd moments of black humour. Mike Higham provides the unmemorable score and the familiar strains of Burtons’ usual collaborator Danny Elfman, are missed.

But the big mystery is who this film is aimed at. Its eye eating villains are far too macabre for little ones and the sub-superhero adventure is too gentle for teens.

And true to its lengthy title, the storytelling is caged and never soars.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lovers And The Despot

Director: Ross Adam, Robert Cannan (2016) BBFC cert: PG

With international espionage, kidnap, brainwashing and torture there’s a cracking story at the heart of this well researched documentary, but aping the brooding tone of a Cold War thriller takes a great deal of fun out of it.

In 1976 the glamorous power couple of South Korean cinema disappeared from Hong Kong, leaving children, debts and failing careers behind them.

Shin Sang-ok was a stylish director and Choi Eun-hee his beautiful muse and leading lady. They emerged in North Korea at the side of dictator Kim Jong-Il, for whom they made a series of films.

After defecting to the US in 1986 they claimed to have been kidnapped, but suspicion remained they staged their abductions and had been merrily collaborating.

This collection of interviews, propaganda films, press conferences and secretly recorded conversations encourages the audience to draw its own conclusions.

@ChrisHunneysett

Little Men

Director: Ira Sachs (2016) BBFC cert: PG

Greg Kinnear stars in this sincere and stagey snapshot of awkward adolescence. Brian is a struggling actor who inherits his father’s apartment and takes his family in a socially downward move from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

Brian is the smallest man in the film, buffeted by a domineering sister, emotionally blackmailed by his conniving tenant and frozen out by his distant wife. Talia Balsam, Paulina Garcia and Jennifer Ehle skilfully sketch the three very different women.

The focus of the story falls on the growing relationship between his son Jake and Tony, the son of the downstairs tenant. Theo Taplitz and especially Michael Barbieri are remarkably assured as the odd couple thirteen year olds, one artistic and shy, the other outgoing and sporty.

The hint of unrequited feeling from one of the boys is one of a number of plot strands the film fails to commit to. More than one character may be having an affair and past relations are hinted at. Half formed characters mingle with jokes about the plays of Chekhov.

It’s nicely observed and consistent of tone. But just like Brian, the film would rather bury itself in art than risk creating any emotional scenes.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

The Girl with All the Gifts

Director: Colm McCarthy (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Unwrap this British action thriller which flowers into a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse.

Young Sennia Nanua gives an endearingly open performance as a teenager of prodigious mental ability. She and her classmates are prisoners in a military research station. Outside of lessons they’re kept in solitary confinement and under armed guard.

Gemma Arterton plays Helen, a gold hearted gun toting teacher who has a maternal bond with Melanie. Along with Glenn Close’s dedicated scientist, Paddy Considine’s gruff army sergeant and Fisayo Akinade’s dim squaddie, the five develop a dysfunctional family dynamic.

Outside the base the majority of the population are suffering from a fungal infection to the brain. This has turned them into fast moving mindless monsters, reminiscent of the manic ‘infected’ from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002). They are nicknamed ‘the Hungries’ and can be killed by the traditional bullet to the head.

The Girl With All The Gifts is based on the book of the same name by Mike Carey, and it was no surprise to learn the author is a former writer for the cult British comic, 2000AD. Still going strong it is soon to publish its 2000th issue and was recently the subject of a highly entertaining documentary, Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014).

Like all British sci-fi of the last thirty years, this story’s roots are deep in the fertile soil of the self-styled ‘Galaxy’s Greatest comic’. The hallmarks of its best stories are all present here; extreme violence, sardonic humour, strong characters and a twist at the end.

Also the script mines Greek myths for inspiration and throws in baby-eating rats and mother-eating babies into the gory mix. Plus it draws on elements of John Wyndham’s evergreen novel Day Of The Triffids (pub. 1951) as well as William Golding’s The Lord Of The Flies (pub.1954).

The set designers have had great fun turning the West Midlands into an overgrown urban tundra. The make-up artists have a field day and the sound engineers go all out to scare us with an impressive variety of blood curdling noise.

Always keen to keep shovelling on the action, The Girl With All The Gifts offers sufficient rewards for those who dig zombie films.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Compared to the truly magnificent 1960 original, this unlooked for western remake is unsurprisingly inferior. But after a summer of poor blockbuster fare, it’s passable entertainment in its own way.

Unburdened by any more ambition than a broad desire to be please, the film trots through the familiar story of a small posse of cowboys facing overwhelming odds.

There’s a liberal lifting of scenes and dialogue from the John Sturges version and a cheeky play of Elmer Bernstein’s majestic original score over the end credits. The new main score by the late James Horner is monumentally forgettable.

Reasons for watching include handsome photography, great period design and the no shortage of old school action. There are real sets, stuntmen and horses instead of CGI fakery. The $100M budget is all on screen.

Traditional western themes of comradeship, courage and loyalty are wrapped up in a glossy tale of redemption. This is an optimistic vision of how the US could still be won, with a rainbow society trying to overcome corporate greed and restore the church to the centre of civic life. This last point will resonate with US conservative Christians, a larger and more influential congregation across the pond than here in the UK.

Headliners Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are clearly enjoying themselves and their combined charisma is the film’s biggest strength. Vincent D’Onofrio adds more humour as a tracker, a fool who speaks truth to power.

The casting attempts to accurately reflect the ethnic mix of contemporary US, and presumably hopes to attract the audience which makes the multi-ethnic Fast Furious franchise such a global success. So the remaining gunslingers are respectively Chinese, Mexican and Native American. Sadly they’re so poorly scripted, their race is pretty much the extent of their characterisation. One is described as an assassin but they may as well have gone the whole hog and called him a ninja.

Washington stars as bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, hired by a young widow who needs protection from a corrupt industrialist. Haley Bennett offers true grit as Emma, the only female speaking role of note.

It’s a shame there aren’t a few more women in the movie, or even – gasp – in the seven. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Natalie Portman’s Jane’s Got A Gun featured strong willed gun-toting women. We could have done with more similarly natured women here.

Although Emma plays a small but crucial role, she definitely is not part of the all-male gang. As it is, she barely qualifies as the female Smurf. Amid all the back slapping diversity, fifty percent of the population are woefully under-represented. Except for whores, who are everywhere.

Chisolm has a personal reason for taking the job and recruits collection of desperadoes and misfits to defend the gold mining town. They include Pratt’s gambler and Hawke’s PSTD suffering civil war veteran.

Through a suitably sweeping landscape we move briskly from one action scene to another. The action is staged with occasional invention but at times the geography is unclear. This is especially true in the finale where our heroes face almost insurmountable odds and a seemingly infinite supply of ammunition. Until the smoke cleared I wasn’t sure exactly who had survived.

Peter Sarsgaard sketches without light or shade his consumptive black hearted villain, Bartholomew Bogue. He mostly acts apart from the Seven and with the protagonist isolated there’s a sense the film isn’t terribly interested in him. Consequently nor are we very much.

For long periods it’s agreeable crowd pleasing stuff. We’re reasonably entertained but never roused or excited. This not a disaster such as the recent Ben-Hur remake is, but it is quite far from magnificent.

@ChrisHunneysett