Zoolander (2001)

2016 #121
Ben Stiller | 85 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & Germany / English | 12 / PG-13

Zoolander15 years before flop comedy Zoolander 2, there was Zoolander… which wasn’t a big hit either (it was 2001’s 68th highest-grossing film). Nonetheless, it developed some kind of mainstream-cult appeal, resulting in: a) that sequel, and b) me, on a night when I fancied something undemanding, deciding I should see what the fuss was about.

The story of an almost-past-it model who’s brainwashed into being an assassin, it’s essentially a one joke film (“aren’t models dumb?”), but gets surprisingly good mileage out of that. Not relentlessly amusing, nor the best thing on anyone’s CV, but some bits are very funny.

3 out of 5

A Royal Night Out (2015)

2016 #82
Julian Jarrold | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12 / PG-13

A Royal Night OutA somewhat remarkable true story gets romanticised in this likeable comedy about King Colin Firth (Rupert Everett) and Queen Olivia Colman (Emily Watson) allowing Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) to go out on the town on V.E. Day. When Margaret runs off, Liz teams up with a grumpy squaddie (Jack Reynor) to track her down.

Gently amusing and relatively briskly paced, A Royal Night Out is lightweight and unchallenging, the definition of Heritage-ish lazy Sunday afternoon viewing. That means it will rub some viewers up the wrong way, but others will love its simple, old fashioned charms.

3 out of 5

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)

2016 #93
Paul Goodwin | 105 mins | TV | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 15

Future Shock! The Story of 2000ADTalking heads documentary about the galaxy’s greatest comic, 2000 AD, birthplace of Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, et al. Created to be somewhat subversive in a marketplace stuffed with safe children’s comics, it’s become a rare survivor of the medium on British newsstands.

Future Shock tells of the project’s birth, then the years when the US industry used the comic to scout talent, cherrypicking all its best creators. Today, it’s an influential institution that punches above its weight.

This is a pretty niche documentary, ultimately, but well-made and informative for those interested in comic book history and/or British culture.

4 out of 5

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

2016 #55
Ridley Scott | 144 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & Spain / English | 12 / PG-13

Exodus: Gods and KingsFor his most recent historical epic, Ridley Scott tackles the story of Moses. It’s easy to nitpick, depending on your proclivities: whitewashed cast; lack of adherence to the Bible; Ridley’s typically flexible attitude to historiography; it was even banned in Egypt for the negative depiction of both rulers and slaves.

Those aside, it’s visually sumptuous and impressively mounted, with well-imagined semi-plausible versions of the tale’s fantastical elements. However, despite the epic length (and four screenwriters), it never gets inside characters’ heads — they’re just going through motions dictated centuries ago.

Primarily one for those already amenable to its genre or creators.

3 out of 5

Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Martian, premieres on Sky Cinema today. My five-star review is here.

Scotland, Pa. (2001)

2016 #61
Billy Morrissette | 99 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA / English | NR / R

Scotland, Pa.Shakespeare gets transposed to 1970s Pennsylvania in this blackly comedic reimagining of Macbeth, which converts the Thane of Glamis into a diner chef and the Scottish throne into ownership of a new concept: drive-thru.

Writer-director Billy Morrissette cleverly reconfigures aspects of the original (the witches are hippies; the ‘spot’ on Mrs Macbeth’s hand is a burn from spitting oil), but dodges being literally beholden to the text, allowing the humour and new situations to drive matters — you don’t need to be a fan of the Bard to get it.

It’s probably a little too long, but still an amusing variation.

4 out of 5

Quadruple Drabble: Mediocre films by directors who should do better

I have a massive backlog of reviews, and I keep watching new stuff, so there literally aren’t enough days in the year to clear it. In aid of that, here’s three connected quickies — according to wordcounter.net, it should take you less than 90 seconds to read all of them.

The theme, as the title suggests, is directors we have good reason to expect much of, but in this particular instance have let us down. They are Luc Besson, Michael Mann, and (to a lesser extent) Neill Blomkamp.

Here is what they made:

Lucy
Blackhat
Chappie

(Why ‘quadruple’? This post has 100 words too!)

Chappie (2015)

2016 #45
Neill Blomkamp | 115 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & South Africa / English | 15 / R

ChappieNeill Blomkamp seems to be on M. Night Shyamalan’s career path: a massively-praised Oscar-nominated breakthrough genre movie, followed by a series of increasingly maligned follow-ups.

His latest is the story of a police robot that gets inducted into South African rap/gang culture. It’s incredibly idiosyncratic, and actually kind of interesting in its oddness and the way it exposes a different culture. So there’s something to be got out of it, but it feels like a failed experiment rather than a successful realisation of a bold idea.

Still, in the homogenised landscape of big-budget sci-fi movies, at least it’s something different.

3 out of 5

Blackhat (2015)

2016 #46
Michael Mann | 127 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English, Mandarin & Spanish | 15 / R

BlackhatHow the mighty have fallen. The great Michael Mann, who once helmed genre-defining crime movies with expertly-directed sequences, here delivers a movie that looks like an amateur cheapie by a film student who’s watched too many Paul Greengrass movies without learning anything meaningful from them.

it plays like a Hong Kong action-thriller, but let down by flabby storytelling, including obvious restructuring in post. Praised for depicting hacking more accurately than normal, that’s undercut by the rest being so clichéd. And its horrible romance includes a scene where the girl’s lover and her brother discuss what’s best for her!

Oh, Mann.

2 out of 5

Lucy (2014)

2016 #44
Luc Besson | 86 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | France & USA / English, French & Korean* | 15 / R

LucyAfter years producing movies in the Taken stable, Besson directs one himself. Unfortunately it’s a poor effort — not a bad movie, exactly, but a deeply silly one.

Forced to be a drugs mule, Scarlett Johansson accidentally ingests the product and unlocks her brain’s unused potential — yes, that long-debunked chestnut. Such daftness passes muster in, say, superhero origins, where no one’s expecting plausiblility, but Lucy seems to want to genuinely consider scientific ideas… between mediocre action sequences, anyway, which feel like they’re pulling punches to hit 12A/PG-13, even though it’s 15/R.

Less than an hour-and-a-half long, it still feels a slog.

2 out of 5

* IMDb also lists Spanish and Chinese, but I swear they’re only spoken very briefly. If we’re being that picky, Italian’s in there too, I think. ^

Noah (2014)

2016 #36
Darren Aronofsky | 132 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The director of The Fountain tackles the Biblical tale of the flood as if it were also a science-fiction/fantasy adventure — familiarity with the story leads us to assume it’s set in the past, but watch without baggage and the setting looks like a post-apocalyptic future.

I imagine it was terribly controversial with hardened believers, but for the open-minded its rock-angels and action sequences are merely diverting asides to considerations of personal belief — both its dangers and its benefits.

By turns plodding and suitably rousing, it’s far from perfect; but as an alternative kind of blockbuster entertainment, it’s an interesting one.

4 out of 5