THE FRONT RUNNER

Cert 15 113mins Stars 3

Three weeks are a short time in politics in this thoughtful and articulate drama about the sex scandal that scuppered the 1988 US presidential campaign of Gary Hart.

That’s how long it took for the mostly forgotten Hart to go from front runner to also ran  after the media made allegations of an affair with model, Donna Rice.

In a role which takes Hugh Jackman a long way from saving the world as the superhero, Wolverine, the Aussie actor is impressively impassioned as the seemingly naive and self regarding senator from Colorado, whose hair alone is considered to be worth several points in the opinion polls.

A typically intelligent script from director Jason Reitman debates the costs of an increasingly hostile media to the political landscape.

And it questions if Hart’s tragic flaw was in failing to understand the world had changed since the days of JFK, when politicians could philander in private and not have their public careers affected.

 

 

 

 

 

Chevalier

Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari (2016) BBFC cert

Described by the filmmakers as a buddy movie without the buddies, this black comedy satirises the competitive machismo of modern men.

It’s acutely observed and men everywhere will squirm uncomfortably at with recognition at the petty behaviour.

Six average middle aged blokes are enjoying a fishing trip on a luxury yacht when one suggests a game. The winner will be declared ‘best in general’ with the prize a chevalier signet ring.

They set each other a series of challenges with each man scoring everyone else in a note book. Recipes, ringtones and sexual relationships are all under scrutiny and inevitably there is some pointed measuring of body parts.

The captains’ voice over the tannoy suggests the spirit of reality TV, but also harks back to army camp announcer Radar from M.A.S.H. (1970). Robert Altman’s anti-war satire offered a far more scathing examination of humanity in a regimented environment.

As holiday activities of skinny dipping, jet skiing, wind surfing become areas of conflict, so collusion, cheating and the pleasure place becomes more a floating prison.

Amid the ridiculous and pointless competitiveness, the film offers sympathy for the men who are prisoners to their natures and submit to vice to cope with the pressures of scrutiny and ambition.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Neon Demon

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (2016) BBFC cert. 18

Catwalk models will kill to keep their place at the top of the fashion food chain in this boldly provocative and pale skinned horror show.

Taut performances combine with an uncompromising visual style which is underpinned by a techno score. The recurring presence of big cats and the slow glide of the camera create a sense of a victim being stalked.

There are images of bondage and an emphasis on reducing people to sinew, muscle, bone, hair and lipgloss.

Elle Fanning stars as ambitious model Jesse who arrives on the bitchy and backstabbing  LA fashion scene. She lives in a cheap motel whose seedy motel owner Hank is played by a brilliantly seedy Keanu Reeves.

Christina Hendricks previously appeared in Refn’s Drive (2011) is here as a modelling agent who archly dispenses euphemistic career advice. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote are conspiratorial and competitive fellow models.

In order to succeed Jesse chooses to immerse herself in the exploitative world of photographers, agents and make-up artists.

She adopts an emotional mask for protection from recurrent threats of rejection and rape. But this also creates a barrier to our sympathies and engagement.

Glossy and reflective surfaces reflects the empty narcissism of the LA inhabitants and the pristine environs suggest the sci-fi world of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The short shelf life of a models career recalls the limited timespan of the living mannequins of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), as well as the youth obsessed society of Logan’s Run (1976).

Similar to its blank eyed protagonists, The Neon Demon obsesses over its own sleekly manicured surfaces, making it a film hard to get to grips with.

@ChrisHunneysett

Suburra

Director: Stefano Sollima (2016)

This stylish and epic thriller is a lurid neon vision of modern Italy drenched in the traditional local virtues of ambition, power and corruption.

It’s covers fictional events in the five days prior to the real life resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the midst of a national debt crisis 12 November 2011.

The overdose of an underage prostitute threatens to derail a lucrative land deal and results in a bloody gang war.

Politicians, businessman and mobsters become involved in kidnap, blackmail, murder and a shoot out in a shopping mall.

Filippo Malgradi’s corrupt politician, Elio Germano cowardly pimp, Giulia Elettra Gorietti’s hooker, Greta Scarano’s junkie and Claudio Amendola’s enforcer are some of the memorable characters in this brutal, sexy and skilfully told tale.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Secret Life of Pets

Director: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney (2016)

Furry foes compete to be top dog in this irresistible animated adventure guaranteed to get your tail wagging.

It’s powered with a manic zeal to please its audience and full of infectious sunny mirth and giggly silliness.

Created by the demented makers of the Despicable Me movies, it shamelessly milks brand loyalty to encourage you into the cinema.

This means we’re treated to a marvellous mini minion adventure prior to the film and lots of references throughout.

Max is a Jack Russell Terrier who lives in domestic bliss with his owner Katie and considers himself the luckiest dog in New York and.

His happiness is disturbed when Katie brings home another rescue pet and Max is forced to share his turf with the much larger dog called Duke.

They must bury their bone of contention when they become lost in the big city, are chased by animal catchers and hunted by a revolutionary rabbit and his gang of rampaging recruits. Huge snakes, hungry crocodiles and feral cats add to the madcap chaos.

Meanwhile the posse of friends who set out on the rescue include a hawk, a tabby, a budgie and an elderly basset hound on wheels.

As Max and Duke bark, bicker and bond in adversity as their situation begins to bite, the action rockets through the city, veering from vertiginous skyscrapers to the depths of the sewers.

There’s violent slapstick, bright colours, wall flattening pace and a fabulously funny fantasy in a hot dog factory.

The voice talents of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Steve Coogan and Lake Bell are great fun but my pet hate Kevin Hart never stops shouting his suspiciously ad libbed sounding lines.

Be warned; if you kids don’t have a pet now, they’ll want one after watching this.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

Gods Of Egypt

Director: Alex Proyas (2016)

With a budget of $140M this is possibly the most dull and cheap looking special effects spectacular you’ll be unfortunate to suffer.

Mortals and gods battling to save ancient Egypt in a camp and glossy action adventure romp should be huge amounts of fun.

10 feet tall gods bleed liquid gold and ride chariots pulled by giant beetles. Plus there are enormous fire breathing snakes and ox headed warriors.

But due to a terrible script, laboured jokes and painful dialogue it’s sadly far less entertaining than the sum of its ridiculous parts.

Also it’s terribly edited and badly dubbed with a voice over dropped in to fill – or possibly distract from – the gaps in the inconsistent story.

Humans are referred to as mortals even though gods are regularly killed or threatened with death.

The heroes are dull, women are inconsequential plot devices, no one knows who the main character is and it’s left to the bad guys to provide what fun there is.

The gorgeous set and costume design is wasted by appalling shoddy CGI, terrible storytelling and some awful acting.

Gerard Butler’s reputation survives because the Scots actor embraces the nonsense, strutting manfully as Set, god of the desert and war. He brings the noise and the muscle and when he and the excellent Elodie Yung are off screen everything flags, in the manner of the inflatable pyramid in Despicable Me 2 (2013).

It’s a shame the majority of the cast don’t follow his cue, offering light weight performances which are dwarfed by the sets and lost in the gravity free CGI.

Butler goes full Sparta, reprising the roaring camp egotism of his skirt and sandalled fighting king Leonidas, from Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006).

Bored after a thousand years of peace, he stages a violent coup over his nephew. Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is astonishingly dull as the rightful king Horus left blind and in exile.

Equalling him for a lack of charisma are Brenton Thwaites and Courtney Eaton. As Bek and Zaya they are the happiest, healthiest and most handsomest slaves in Hollywood.

When Zaya dies Bek strikes a deal with Horus. In return for helping Horus reclaiming his eyes and his throne, Horus will use his power to return Zaya to the land of the living.

They trek about the desert, raiding tombs, visiting gods and fighting monsters. Joining them from Netflix’s Daredevil is the under used Yung.

Despite Hathor being the only female character on show with anything approaching complexity, she’s eventually sidelined and suffers the usual fate of strong headed women in movies. Being punished for her promiscuity would be wrong even if Hathor wasn’t the goddess of love.

Hathor’s absence from the rooftop finale leaves us with musclebound mahogany mugs battering each other as a giant space worm attempts to eat Egypt. Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

Fresh from Captain America: Civil War (2016) Chadwick Boseman out camps out as Thoth the god of knowledge. In an ’80s romcom he’d be classed as the gay black best friend.

A strongly Australian supporting cast sees Bryan Brown, Bruce Spence and Geoffrey Rush failing to be embarrassed as various gods. Abbey Lee was last seen in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) alongside Courtney Eaton as wives of Immortan Joe.

The growling muffle of Kenneth Ransom’s voice of the Sphinx leaves his riddle indecipherable, never mind unsolvable.

With ancient gods reimagined as superheroes, for much of the running time this feels more like a retread of the recent X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) than anything Ray Harryhausen may have conjured up. And about as much fun.

It’s a long fall from grace for Alex Proyas whose directorial debut was the intelligently composed sci fi thriller Dark City (1998).

Gods Of Egypt has been criticised for a lack of Egyptian actors. Maybe they realised how bad it was going to be and decided against it.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

Tale Of Tales

Director: Matteo Garrone (2016)

Full of deliciously dark deeds and black comic moments, this fabulously grotesque fairytale is definitely not one for the kids.

In the grand tradition of European folk stories it’s a moral foray through a murky forest of avarice, gluttony, madness, magic and death.

With a minimal of dialogue its entwining stories are expertly twisted together by a marvellous mix of strong performances, stunning costume design, incredible locations and beautiful cinematography.

The loosely connected stories of three medieval monarchs begin with Salma Hayek’s Queen who is longing for a child.

A cloaked figure guarantees her a child but warns of a potentially lethal price. The Queen’s husband must kill a sea monster and its heart must be cooked by a virgin and then eaten by the Queen.

Dishonesty causes repercussions which pass down the years.

Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s debauched king courts a singing maiden without having seen her face. Toby Jones is a wonderfully distracted king who organises a tournament to find a prince to marry his daughter.

Ogres, giant fleas, leeches,  jugglers, fire eaters, dwarves and a fat lady add flavour to this witches brew of story telling. A circus troupe adds a layer of theatricality and make believe to the mythic environment.

Roccascalegna castle is one of several perfectly chosen examples of Italian architecture which anchor the extraordinary events in our imagination.

None of the royal plans ends in the way they or us expect as they discover lies and self interest have severe and deserved consequences.

The final shot is a breathtakingly beautiful comment on the frailty and difficulty of life, offering a degree of compassion to those who have suffered through their own weakness.

@ChrisHunneysett