The Survivalist (2015)

2016 #150
Stephen Fingleton | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 18

The Survivalist’70s self-sufficiency sitcom The Good Life meets bleak post-apocalypse drama The Road* in this technically-science-fiction dramatic thriller, the BAFTA-nominated debut of writer-director Stephen Fingleton.

A man (Martin McCann) lives in a woodland cabin, farming just enough for himself and fending off raiders. When a woman (Olwen Fouéré) and her daughter (Mia Goth) turn up, they build an uneasy alliance in spite of mutual suspicion.

With a Malickian eye for both nature and pace, it has a grim plausibility about the end of the world and, more than that, the fundamentals of human nature. Depressing but truthful — and, post-Trump, possibly prescient!

4 out of 5

* I’ve still not actually seen The Road so this comparison may be faulty, but it was the first super-grim (so I’ve heard) post-apocalyptic drama that came to mind. ^

Cover Girl (1944)

2016 #168
Charles Vidor | 103 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Cover GirlRun-of-the-mill musical starring Rita Hayworth as a Brooklyn showgirl who finds fame after accidentally landing a prestigious magazine cover because the editor was in love with her spitting-image grandmother.

Gene Kelly co-stars as the owner of the low-rent joint she used to star in, and provides two decent dance numbers: the first alongside Hayworth and Phil Silvers, the second alongside himself, double exposure allowing his shop-window reflection to leap into the street.

Otherwise the songs are forgettable, despite the fact it won an Oscar for its score, and the predictable story is allowed too much leeway by the running time.

3 out of 5

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

2016 #135
Mike Nichols | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Germany / English & Russian | 15 / R

Charlie Wilson's WarUnlikely stories can make great movies, or at least fun ones, and if this isn’t the former then it’s largely the latter.

It’s about a hard-partying US congressman (Tom Hanks) who suddenly becomes interested in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, so increases support for the rebels by calling in the many favours he’s collected.

Boasting a typically witty script from Aaron Sorkin, and a cast (including Philip Seymour Hoffman) capable of delivering it, it makes a potentially grim topic surprisingly entertaining — which is presumably why acknowledgement of the aftereffects is reduced to one subtle, but chilling, nod to 9/11.

4 out of 5

Cop Car (2015)

2016 #102
Jon Watts | 84 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Cop CarThe director of minor horror Clown and (more significantly to the history of cinema, maybe) next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jon Watts drew the attention that landed him the latter job with this festival-hit thriller.

Two runaway boys (James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford) come across an abandoned police cruiser and take it for a joyride. Unfortunately for them, it belongs to corrupt officer Kevin Bacon, who’s left something in the boot he desperately wants back…

Freedson-Jackson and Wellford are strikingly naturalistic, while Bacon hits a difficult mix of menacing and pathetically incompetent. A darkly comic tone helps create an arresting little thriller.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Clown is on the Horror Channel tonight at 10:45pm.

The Salvation (2014)

2016 #141
Kristian Levring | 88 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Denmark, UK & South Africa / English, Danish & Spanish | 15 / R

The SalvationThe spirit of the Spaghetti Western is kept alive in this Euro-minded South Africa-shot revenge Western.

Danish settler Mads Mikkelsen finally brings his wife and son out to America, only for tragedy to strike, which pits him and his brother against a gang who are extorting the nearby town.

Thematically thin, familiarly plotted, and with visuals that occasionally belie low-budget roots, The Salvation somehow succeeds through a combination of filmmaking skill, a whip-fast running time, and a quality cast (Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce, Douglas Henshall, and, er, Eric Cantona) who elevate the material just by turning up.

4 out of 5

High-Rise (2015)

2016 #123
Ben Wheatley | 119 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK & Belgium / English | 15 / R

High-RiseI was looking forward to this sci-fi-ish ’70s social satire, but, having let it percolate for a few months, I still have no real grasp of what it was about. I mean, it’s obviously about society, but what its point about society is… I have no idea.

I will add it reminded me of Shivers. I didn’t like Shivers.

Technical merits are first rate — it’s magnificently designed, shot, and edited; a visual delight throughout. Plus it finds two fantastic uses for Abba’s S.O.S. But at a full two hours, pleasant aesthetics are slight sustenance.

Not so much disappointing as indecipherable.

3 out of 5

Ted 2: Extended Edition (2015)

aka Ted 2: Unrated

2016 #94
Seth MacFarlane | 121 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15

Ted 2Comedy sequels often struggle, and writer-director-producer-star Seth MacFarlane’s in-between feature was sporadically odious, so I approached Ted 2 with trepidation. While it can’t match the freshness of its predecessor, it’s certainly no AMWtDitW.*

The plot (about Ted trying to become a legally recognised person) exists to string together comedic set pieces. Perhaps that’s why the pace feels off: individual parts are funny, but it’s slow going. That’s not the fault of the extended cut (details here) — the additions include at least one of the funniest bits.

Not a surprise success like the first, then, but an amusing couple of hours.

3 out of 5

* The length of that title is anathema to a word-limited review. ^

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

2016 #104
Zack Snyder | 93 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA & Australia / English | PG / PG

Legend of the GuardiansLegend of the Guardians is pretty odd.

It’s an action-fantasy movie… starring owls. It’s animated, but in a dark, realistic way (think Rango with less cartoonishness and less light). It’s based on a kids’ book series… but directed by Zack Snyder, clearly reining in his R-rated impulses (violence occurs just off screen, leading to “did that happen?” confusion). The story has been relocated to Australia, the cast filled with well-known antipodean actors and their accents.

The cumulative effect is kind of surreal, retaining too much Snyderness to function properly as the kind of movie it wants to — perhaps should — be.

3 out of 5

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

2016 #122
Robert Z. Leonard | 113 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Pride and PrejudiceThe first adaptation of Jane Austen’s ever-popular novel, MGM’s film is a compromised endeavour: by executives softening dialogue and rewriting characters; by changing its setting to permit grander costumes; by Gone with the Wind using all the Technicolor stock, forcing the lavish production to shoot in black-and-white.

Nonetheless, it emerges a solid take on Austen (until the ending goes thoroughly astray). Laurence Olivier is a suitably moody Darcy and, though far too old for the part, Greer Garson makes a witty Lizzy.

Massively overshadowed by later adaptations, this remains an entertaining version for anyone not too concerned about textual faithfulness.

4 out of 5

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

aka Du bei dao wang

2016 #101
Chang Cheh | 101 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | Hong Kong / Mandarin

Return of the One-Armed SwordsmanIn this lesser sequel to the exceptional original, the titular warrior’s life of peace is disrupted when a gang called the Eight Kings capture all the sword masters and order their students to chop off their sword arms.

With ten varied adversaries to defeat — the Eight Kings plus their enforcers, the Black and White Knights — Return puts greater emphasis on action than did its more dramatic forebear. The fighting is solid, with the enemies’ different skills adding some occasional freshness, but the plot underneath is thin. It makes for a decent but largely unremarkable, kind of run-of-the-mill, martial arts adventure.

3 out of 5