Archive for July, 2015


Beyond the Reach (Jean-Baptiste Léonetti, 2014)

July 31, 2015


Adapted from Robb White’s novel, Deathwatch, Beyond the Reach sees a revival of that now classic conceit of The Most Dangerous Game: man hunting man.

Michael Douglas is Madec, a high-rolling corporate shark taking a hunting trip in the Mojave Desert. Jeremy Irvine is Ben, his poor, young guide from a local town, who’s going through hard times with his childhood sweetheart, now off at college elsewhere in the country. While out on the trip, Madec accidentally shoots a surprise human visitor from afar. He bribes Ben to keep mum about the incident, but Ben has a personal attachment to the deceased and wants to tell the authorities. With a big deal pending with Chinese investors, Madec naturally thinks manslaughter or murder charges might not be the best publicity. And so Ben swiftly ends up as the next target of Madec’s high-powered rifle…

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Rogue Sequel: In Defence of John Woo’s ‘Mission: Impossible II’

July 28, 2015


In the largely homogeneous world of blockbuster franchise filmmaking (hi, Marvel Studios), the nearly 20-years old Mission: Impossible series is perhaps the only still ongoing one that can, without a doubt, be described as director-driven. Brian De Palma’s first film in the series was loosely based on the popular television series of the same name, but it saw fit to treat fan service as red herrings: all IMF squad bar members except Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt are slaughtered within the first act, while series protagonist Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) is revealed to be a traitor. Of the utmost concern to De Palma are his trademark motifs regarding voyeurism, and his spy film fits better in the company of his films like Blow Out than something like the prior year’s Bond entry, GoldenEye. He takes the basic concept of Mission: Impossible and reboots it to suit his own whims.

And so, it is that a similar approach has been carried over to each installment, where every sequel is like its own reboot in a way. There’s continuity and commonality here and there (hi, Ving Rhames), and more so of that in the most recent three films (hi, Bad Robot Productions), but the big connective tissue is always that of using Cruise as a tool, placing him in oft-incredible, elaborate cinematic spectacles — Ethan Hunt is a device, not a character. Yet, the installment that arguably made the best use of Cruise as an instrument of violence is considered the black sheep of the series. Not to say that John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II is the best of the franchise, but there’s much to appreciate here and its rhythms have only become more interesting with age…

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Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)

July 28, 2015


Greater than The Great Escape, American prisoner of war tale Stalag 17 is a darkly comic theatre adaptation from director Billy Wilder. Simultaneously fiery and farcical, it’s a fitting final third for Wilder’s 1950s hat trick that also includes Sunset Blvd and Ace in the Hole, each in their own way a cutting, cynical look at American nature…

Click for the full review for The Skinny


Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014)

July 22, 2015


Christian Petzold’s German melodrama, Phoenix, features subtle performances for a narrative stretching credibility, but the film rewards with wonders for those that can play along with a tale where a lead seems unable to see what the viewer so easily can. One of these players is Nelly (Nina Hoss), a Jewish former club singer and concentration camp survivor, who has undergone facial surgery after the war but looks largely the same thanks to the doctors’ work. The second is Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), the husband who seemingly betrayed his wife and contributed to her SS capture. The two reunite in Switzerland, except Johnny is so convinced that Nelly is dead that, upon her presentation of herself to him, he immediately sees her not as his wife, but as a potential suitable doppelganger that he can train to help him secure the “real” Nelly’s family fortune…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages


The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders/Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, 2014)

July 17, 2015


With The Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders has helmed yet another strong documentary about a fellow artist (see Pina), though this time he’s on co-directing duties with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the son of his documentary’s subject. The film profiles Sebastião Salgado, an acclaimed Brazilian photojournalist whose life has mostly been spent chronicling the misfortunes of victims of man’s cruelty and selfishness; massacred Tutsi in Rwanda and famine victims in the Sahel region of central Africa are just two of the striking subjects of his camera’s lens…

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Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon, 2015)

July 15, 2015

Mr Holmes

A reunion between Ian McKellen and his Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon, Mr. Holmes is similarly concerned with the latter days of a pop culture figure. Instead of a real life figure like Gods and Monsters’ subject (film director James Whale), Mr. Holmes focuses on a fictional figure, Sherlock Holmes. Condon’s film, though, takes a particularly innovative approach, one frankly more interesting than the BBC and Guy Ritchie takes that have pervaded these last few years…

Click for the full review for Vague Visages


Programme Notes: Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2014)

July 9, 2015


I was commissioned to write a programme note for Glasgow Film Theatre for their screenings of Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy during July. You can find an online copy of what I produced for them here.