Bad Neighbours 2

Director: Nicholas Stoller (2016)

I strongly suspect this sequel to the successful 2014 frat boy comedy was only made so Zac Efron could be paid once again to oil his pecs and dance semi naked in front of a crowd of college girls.

Mind you, I’ve made worse career decisions myself.

However this proudly politically correct comedy is alarmingly enjoyable in its own undemanding bad taste way.

Efron returns as Teddy Sanders, now with a criminal record after event in the previous movie.

Wanting revenge on his former next door neighbours, Efron teams up with Chloe Grace Moretz who has rented his previous home to establish her own sorority.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are again the family under siege while Selena Gomez, Lisa Kudrow and Kelsey Grammer cameo.

 

 

 

Clouds Of Sils Maria

Director: Olivier Assayas (2015)

Three fine talents are wasted in this indulgent and exasperating mediation on age, acting and art.

Actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) appeared in the play Maloja Snake, kickstarting her career and making her famous. From the dialogue we hear the play sounds unbearable.

Maria’s role was a young intern called Sigrid who is involved in an exploitative relationship with her boss Helena. Now years later, Maria is invited to take part in a new production but this time taking the part of Helena.

Her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) acts as a driver, confident and drinking buddy who helps Maria prepare for the role.

Pitched to be the new Sigrid is Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), a gun-toting, rehabbing, paparazzi-magnet who is an amalgam of the worst headlines of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. She brings much needed spite and bile to the self-satisfied proceedings.

Maria is an irritating combination of affectations; a needy, attention-seeking, pill-popping alcoholic who flirts with anyone offering work. Everyone is duplicitous and solicitous and every expression of feeling is a calculation.

This may an accurate reflection of the life of an actress but it’s far from an original one and gives us little reason to warm to Maria. Susan Sarandon sent up the self-obsessive nature of actors far more entertainingly as a guest star in TV’s Friends.

When the directionally-challenged Maria and Valentine struggle up a mountain brandishing a map, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the similarly themed and equally dull and indulgent Maps To The Stars (2014).

There are frequent mountain walks, a little drunk-driving, some skinny dipping, endless rehearsals and too many discussions of age changing perspective. It’s high-handedly critical of celebrity culture, the internet and Hollywood films.

Riffing on the film’s exploration of age-defined femininity, Binoche embraces nudity and Stewart doesn’t.

This is a theatre acting class masquerading as cinema but I’m not sure I’m sufficiently communicating the extreme turpitude of the viewing experience.

The Swiss scenery is beautiful and shot with crisp veneration by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux.

The Clouds Of Sils Maria is an example of aiming to make art and failing to create anything as humble as an entertainment.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Director: Isao Takahata (2015)

Magical and moving, this animated folktale is charming, moving and a beautifully crafted joy, bursting with humour and life.

When sent to the Earth as punishment, a young Moon spirit discovers that mortal life involves responsibility and pain as well as love.

Deservedly nominated for best animated feature at the Oscars, it’s a captivating combination of glorious pencil-work and delicate pastel colours.

Working in a secluded grove, an old Bamboo Cutter (James Caan) is startled when a bright light reveals a tiny female form inside a tree. The kindly man takes her home to his wise wife (Mary Steenburgen) where the sprite changes miraculously into a baby.

Being without children they resolve to look after the baby as if she were their own. She grows at a prodigious rate, sprouting from baby to toddler in a single crawl.

The Princess is named ‘Li’l Bamboo’ by the local children and joins the gang of Sutemaru (Darren Criss) with whom a strong emotional bond develops.

Loyal, clever, impetuous and mischievous, Li’l Bamboo accelerates through a joyous, gentle and comic childhood in a wonderful rural adventure land. It’s alive with gorgeously animated birds, frogs, spiders, pigs, snakes, squirrels, beavers, fish and deer.

Returning to the magic grove the Bamboo Cutter finds a tree filled with money, then another with swathes of fine cloth. He concludes Li’l Bamboo is a true princess and must be raised as one.

So he builds his daughter a palace in the Capital and when she turns 13 years old he moves the family there to live, away from her friends.

Stern Lady Sagami (Lucy Liu) is employed to teach Li’l Bamboo courtly social graces but the spirited girl rails against her tutoring and the subduing of her personality. She mocks the painful beauty procedures and rejects the subservient idea of womanhood.

At a three day banquet to mark her coming of age, she is given the name Princess Kaguya and to please her father tries to become an obedient, studious daughter. With her great beauty and social skills she attracts a multitude of suitors, including the greatest nobles in the land.

But the Princess isn’t impressed by their status and to her father’s consternation Kaguya issues them impossible tasks to prove their love.

However she’s aghast when one by one they return to make her keep her word and she makes a rash wish which changes her life.

It is more measured in pace and tone and lacks the delirious colours and engineered wackiness of contemporary megaplex crowd pleasers such as Disney’s excellent Big Hero 6. Plus with a running time of 137 minutes it is for older rather than younger children.

With it’s strong-willed country girl who learns of life in the city it’s similar to the story of Heidi which director Takahata adapted in 1974. It is a tale celebrating life but also reflective of grief, loss and suffering, heralding the virtues of honesty and friendship over wealth and looks, taking to task the way female identity is constructed for the benefit of men.

The animation is impressionistic in style with characters and backgrounds being drawn on the same page – unlike in traditional cel animation where characters are drawn separately and superimposed onto the background. It is a wonderfully immersive and suitably organic technique, emphasising the passion for the story in every exquisite and entertaining frame.

The Equalizer

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2014)

British TV series The Equalizer gets a full Hollywood make-over in this glossy and violent action thriller.

Even sillier than the original it’s now a patriotic vigilante fantasy about defending homely American values against imported Russian vices.

The late Edward Woodward is replaced by Denzil Washington as widowed ex-CIA agent Robert McCall .

Played by Washington McCall can’t help but be charismatically charming and an impressively mean physical presence.

Living quietly, assisting colleagues with their careers and being an all-round good egg, he even finds the time for a little song and dance routine.

He’s moved to help local prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) when she’s hospitalised by her Russian Pimp Slavi (David Meunier).

Armed only with the novels of Hemingway and Mark Twain, McCall visits the gangsters and attempts to buy her freedom.

They reject his offer, there’s some peculiar and unnecessary stuff with a stopwatch and it ends impressively badly for them.

So evil oligarch Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich)  sends over his badass fixer, the sharp suited and silver-tongued Teddy (Marton Csokas).

AsTeddy begins hunting down McCall with the help of corrupt cops, our hero jets off to see his former boss Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to warn her of the violence to come.

There’s no real reason for this but it’s a handy excuse to include a helicopter; this sort of film has to have a helicopter. And a dockside gunfight. And really big explosions to stride heroically away from towards the camera.

Washington does give good stride.

Action scenes are deftly handled but a strong opening is squandered and plot-holes are scattered all about as it descends into silly brutality.

Director Antoine Fuqua once made the brilliant Training Day (also with Washington) but now lifts all Guy Ritchie’s slow motion action moves but without the same elan.

The bloody finale takes place in a hardware store. A venue that always signifies the honest, hardworking, independence of American men – and provide McCall with a variety of grisly weapons.

Eventually good-hearted Yanks overcome a wave of Russians, embrace redemption, education and self-reliance while wrapping themselves up in the stars and stripes.

★★☆☆☆