Cafe Society

Director: Woody Allen (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

In his latest comedy drama, writer/director Woody Allen serves up his hallmark witty lines and jazz soundtrack with a sumptuous 1930’s glamour.

Flitting between LA and the Big Apple, the plot turns on a love letter written by legendary Hollywood lover, Rudolph Valentino.

A multitude of deftly sketched characters breeze through a revolving door of family dinners, weekend brunches, pool parties and nightclub cocktails.

Between the name dropping, back stabbing and infidelity, several murders occur and there’s an entertaining encounter with a prostitute.

Kristen Stewart stars as Veronica, a down to earth secretary involved in a love triangle with her boss and his young gopher. Steve Carell plays Phil, a powerful Hollywood agent while Jesse Eisenberg is his neurotic New York nephew, Bobby.

The latter essays the role Allen would once have played himself. Wisely the veteran filmmaker remains behind the camera and engineers a nice turn of mood from breezy romance to poignant longing.

Cafe Society is a pleasant place to while away a quiet afternoon but it’s extreme familiarity may not encourage you to return in a hurry.



Batman Vs Superman

Director: Zack Snyder (2016)

Long, loud and laden with apocalyptic doom, this superhero scrap sees the two big beasts of DC comics collide for the first time on the silver screen.

Though the story is a timely nod to the galvanising effect a symbolic sacrifice can have on the behaviour of humanity, this is a suitably dour sequel to Snyder’s equally ponderous Man of Steel (2013).

More concerned with exploring humanity’s relationship with god than having fun fighting crime, it’s full of visions of hell, ghostly conversations and lashings of occasionally shoddy CGI mayhem.

Rare moments of weak humour seem included by studio diktat and every utterance is underlined by Hans Zimmer’s typically thunderous score.

Added to the huge amount of explosions and gunfire, it is for many stretches a numbing rather than uplifting or exciting experience.

At the beginning for those who may have forgotten already, there is a mercifully quick revision of Batman’s origin story. Then we plough right into the end of Man Of Steel where Superman’s titanic battle with General Zod is witnessed by an aghast Bruce Wayne.

Bulked up Brit Henry Cavill returns as Superman and a beefy Ben Affleck stars for the first time as Batman. Both are well cast though I suspect Cavill is operating at the top of his game while Affleck is operating well within his.

Affleck has himself appeared in the Superman costume in the role of ill-fated TV star George Reeves in the excellent Hollywoodland (2006). He was also Marvel comics Daredevil (2003) in a version every bit as poor as the Netflix TV series is excellent.

The super serious Man of Steel and The Caped Crusader are pitched against each other through the nefarious plans of Lex Luthor.

Jesse Eisenberg twitches and simpers as the skinny evil scientist. He sports a suit and trainers combo topped off with straggly shoulder length hair.

Contributing little, dressed to the nines and wandering around backstage like a lost contender for hottest businesswoman of the year, Gal Gadot is eventually unveiled as Wonder Woman to the accompaniment of a personal guitar riff. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be laughing, but it’s the only time I did.

Amy Adams is repeatedly rescued as Superman’s squeeze Lois Lane and Diane Lane returns as Martha Kent, Superman’s adoptive human mother.

 Sharing scant screen time with his employer, Jeremy Irons makes little impression as Alfred, butler and mechanic to Batman’s alter ego, the billionaire Bruce Wayne.

There is  a strong sense of design with chains and fire being recurring motifs, suitable for a film which mines the god-confronting myth of Prometheus for inspiration. The Bat-suit is nicely scarred and demonic and Wayne manor has a full complement of bat gadgets, bat memorabilia and of course a Batmobile.

Director Zac Snyder is also responsible for the ponderous and slavish adaption of the superhero satire Watchmen (2009).

Based on Alan Moore’s seminal work, it was one of two groundbreaking graphic novels of the ’80’s which contributed to making comic books acceptable cultural fodder for adults.

The other was Frank Miller’s Bat-tale The Dark Knight Returns, and Snyder lifts some ideas, images and dialogue directly from the page.

Those graphic novels use the presence of super powerful godlike beings on Earth to explore the media manipulation of disaster for political and military gain. This forms a central thrust to Batman Vs Superman.

Snyder has an impressive and sure footed visual sense but it’s superseded by self important one note storytelling. With even the smallest scene over wrought to the nth degree, emotional power seeps away from those scenes from where it’s most needed.

Outflanked by the billion dollar success of the Marvel Connected Universe featuring Captain America, Iron Man etc, Warner Bros. have taken what was conceived as a straight up Man of Steel (2013) sequel and quickly expanded it to include first Batman and then Wonder Woman.

The Dawn of Justice tagline refers to the forthcoming follow up The Justice League movie, the first part of which is slated for 2017. Characters are hinted at here and intended as competition to Marvel’s Avengers ensemble and Fox studio’s X-Men franchise.

Given the almost pointless inclusion of Wonder Woman here, there is little to whet the appetite for what will be an even more crowded super powered excursion.


American Ultra

Director: Nima Nourizadeh (2015)

Slackers, spies and sleeper agents get their brains fried in this darkly comic stoner thriller.

Though it takes a while to find a groove, once the story sparks up and the thrills kick in, the entertainment escalates and acheives a riotous velocity.

Sweet-natured slackers Mike and Phoebe share a drug dependancy and matching tattoos. Unfortunately Mike has a tendency to keep making a hash of their romance.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart give the couple a sweetly combustible chemistry.

Unknown to himself, Mike’s a lethal sleeper agent, a guinea pig in the CIA’s Ultra programme designed to turn criminals into expert killing machines.

However the scheme is judged a failure and Topher Grace’s spy boss decides to shut down the programme by terminating the assets.

What the chief lacks in menace he makes up with obnoxious energy.

Connie Britton plays a rival spook who tries to give her one-time charge a fighting chance. She uses a safe word to unlock the training buried deep in Mike’s psyche.

She’s played by Victoria Lasseter on far better form than in the poor Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015).

When two agents arrive to kill his buzz and end his life, Mike freaks himself out with the lethal ferocity of his response.

Together with a surprisingly resourceful Phoebe, they face a desperate mission to survive, leaving burnt out buildings and dead bodies in their wake.

The sneaky soundtrack lulls with soft Hawaiian sounds before launching an ear-shattering assault to complement the bloody and bone crunching violence.

A truckful of assassins, drone strikes and a big box of fireworks all fan the flames of the smouldering fun.

Mike’s a stoned version of Jason Bourne and Eisenberg’s performance squeezes the concept for some decent laughs.

Matt Damon was 32 when he first played Robert Ludlum’s all action anti-hero, Eisenberg is 31.

Stewart is full of fierce defiance and equally good, despite being lumbered with the role of  girlfriend in peril. She slyly sports Franka Potente’s red hair from The Bourne Identity (2002).

As fun as Eisenberg is, it’s a shame he and Stewart didn’t swap roles. A hell bent Phoebe would have added to this year’s joyously bumper crop of kick ass cinematic heroines.

With an hawaiian-shirted hero on the run with a girl in a world of drugs, guns and comic books, American Ultra is clearly influenced by True Romance (1993).

Though it similarly includes a cloud of falling feathers it lacks Tony Scott’s visual lyricism and Quentin Tarantino’s dynamite dialogue.

Made on a reasonable budget of $30M, American Ultra is armed with a keen sense of the ridiculous, offers plenty of juiced up action, some laughs and a couple of recognisable faces.

So it’s surprising it hasn’t found more of an audience in the US where it’s only scored for $11M after ten days on release.

If the US poster ads are as terribly unrepresentative of the movie as the UK ones are, then I’d be tempted to place the blame of lack of interest at the publicists.

While it’s not an outstanding movie it is a worthwhile entertainment, hopefully one which will gain traction on other platforms and find the audience it deserves.