Action, Animation, Ariel Schulman, Auli'i Cravalho, Chester Morris, Chris Wedge, Chris Williams, D.J. Caruso, Dave Franco, David Yates, Disney, Don Hall, Donnie Yen, Dwayne Johnson, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Roberts, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, George Sherman, Gerry O'Hara, Guy Hamilton, Heart of a Dog, Henry Joost, Horror, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, Ian McShane, J.K. Rowling, January 2017, John Musker, Laurie Anderson, Lolabelle, Lucas Till, Moana, Monster Trucks, Monthly roundup, Movies, Nerve (2016), Oliver Reed, Rat terrier, Ray Enright, Reviews, Richard Conte, Ron Clements, Sean Patrick O'Reilly, The Party's Over, The Pleasure Girls, The Sixties, The Sleeping City, Tomorrow at Seven, Vin Diesel, xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Nerve (2016) / D: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman / 96m
Cast: Dave Franco, Emma Roberts, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Juliette Lewis, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jefferies, Colson Baker, Brian Marc
Rating: 6/10 – an online game of Truth or Dare quickly escalates into something more dangerous than expected when Vee (Roberts) decides to escape her comfort zone and take on the game’s challenges; less than subtle criticisms of the Internet and social media can’t hide the fact that this kind of scenario – teens (mostly) take risks to become “cool” in the eyes of the world – lacks immediacy and a real sense that its characters are in any actual danger, leaving Nerve to flirt with its ideas but never really take them out on a first date.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) / D: David Yates / 133m
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Alison Sudol, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray, Jon Voight, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo
Rating: 5/10 – in New York in 1926, young wizard, Newt Scamander (Redmayne), arrives with a case full of fantastic beasts (what else?) and finds himself in the midst of an evil plot to boost Warner Bros.’ take at the box office; despite being written by J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts... is littered with characters we never get to know, clumsy demarcations between the wizarding world and that of the Muggles (or No-Maj’s as they’re known here), features another tedious series of destruction-porn episodes, and fosters the overwhelming sense that, despite protestations to the contrary, this is a franchise cash-in and nothing more.
Moana (2016) / D: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams / 107m
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
Rating: 6/10 – when a curse threatens the island she lives on, chief’s daughter Moana (Cravalho) goes in search of the one person who can put things right: the cause of the curse, demi-god Maui (Johnson); following on from the delightful (and fresh) Zootopia (2016), it’s shocking to see just how lightweight Moana is in comparison, with little depth to the characters, and a plot so flimsy it’s almost see-through, all of which leaves the movie’s stunning animation as the only thing that makes an impact.
The Party’s Over (1965) / D: Guy Hamilton / 94m
Cast: Oliver Reed, Clifford David, Ann Lynn, Katherine Woodville, Louise Sorel, Mike Pratt, Maurice Browning, Jonathan Burn, Roddy Maude-Roxby, Annette Robertson, Alison Seebohm, Eddie Albert
Rating: 7/10 – an American businessman (David) comes to London to persuade his fiancée (Lynn) to return home and get married, but he finds himself battling against her friends (led by Reed’s anti-Establishment poser), and her sudden disappearance; seen today, The Party’s Over has all the hallmarks of a Sixties curio, but at the time it pushed quite a few boundaries, and fell foul of the British censors, forcing Hamilton to remove his name from the credits – but not before he’d made a fascinating and striking movie that’s only let down by a handful of weak performances and an ending that matches them.
The Sleeping City (1950) / D: George Sherman / 85m
Cast: Richard Conte, Coleen Gray, Richard Taber, John Alexander, Peggy Dow, Alex Nicol
Rating: 6/10 – the murder of a doctor at New York’s Bellevue Hospital prompts the police to place three undercover officers there in an attempt to flush out the killer; beginning with an awkward endorsement of the Bellevue staff by Conte (whose inability to read from cue cards is obvious), The Sleeping City soon settles into its film noir trappings but while it’s diverting enough, it doesn’t know what to do with Conte’s lead detective, or how to make its central plot more interesting than it is.
Heart of a Dog (2015) / D: Laurie Anderson / 75m
With: Laurie Anderson
Rating: 8/10 – a tone poem, an essay, a treatise on the unconditional love a dog has for its owner, and a wider examination of grief and loss allied to the events of 9/11 – this isn’t just about Laurie Anderson’s relationship with her beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle, but about the various ways that love and loss can affect us; at its core, Heart of a Dog is not a documentary, but a collage of distressed film stock, abstract sound and sound effects, Anderson’s performance persona, visual memories, heartfelt imagery and reminiscences, poetic reality, and Anderson’s own unique view of the world and the essential poetic nature of it all, all of which combines to provide the viewer with one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking movies of recent years.
Tomorrow at Seven (1933) / D: Ray Enright / 62m
Cast: Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Henry Stephenson, Grant Mitchell, Charles Middleton, Oscar Apfel, Virginia Howell
Rating: 7/10 – the Black Ace is a master criminal/murderer who predicts the time he’ll kill each of his victims, and he never fails, but crime writer Neil Broderick (Morris) is on his trail, and with the help of Black Ace expert, Thornton Drake (Stephenson), is determined to catch him; an old dark house mystery that features light relief (or major annoyance – take your pick) from the double act of McHugh and Jenkins as two of the stupidest cops on the force, Tomorrow at Seven does a good job of playing cat and mouse with the audience, but with so few suspects on display, the identity of the Black Ace is, sadly, all too obvious.
The Pleasure Girls (1965) / D: Gerry O’Hara / 88m
Cast: Ian McShane, Francesca Annis, Mark Eden, Klaus Kinski, Anneke Wills, Tony Tanner, Rosemary Nicols, Suzanna Leigh, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Carol Cleveland
Rating: 6/10 – Sally (Annis) comes to London to be a model, and soon falls in with a like-minded group of young women looking to find their way in the world – and have a lot of fun at the same time, even though it doesn’t always work out like that; though the focus is in on Sally, her friends, and the various relationships they form, The Pleasure Girls makes more of an impact thanks to its male cast, with McShane, Eden and Kinski (very good) all standing out thanks to strong characterisations and having less soap opera-style dialogue than that of the female cast, and O’Hara’s direction appearing to wander whenever two or more of the girls are on screen.
Monster Trucks (2016) / D: Chris Wedge / 105m
Cast: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, Holt McCallany, Amy Ryan, Danny Glover, Frank Whaley
Rating: 7/10 – an oil-drilling operation leads to the release of three “monsters” that live deep underground, but while the oil company captures two of the creatures, the third ends up befriending high school senior, Tripp (Till), who in turn helps it to avoid being captured as well; an innocuous throwback to the kind of fantasy movies made for kids in the Eighties, Monster Trucks is a lot of fun if you let yourself just go with it, and though its message of tolerance and understanding of “foreigners” seems at odds with current notions of US nationalism, it’s still a message we can all stand to hear one more time.
Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016) / D: Sean Patrick O’Reilly / 83m
Cast: Kiefer O’Reilly, Sean Patrick O’Reilly, Jane Curtin, Ron Perlman, Christopher Plummer, Alison Wandzura, Tyler Nicol, Doug Bradley
Rating: 5/10 – young Howard Lovecraft (Kiefer O’Reilly) finds himself transported to a strange kingdom of ice which is inhabited by equally strange creatures, and where he finds himself searching for both a way back, and a way to reassure his father (Nicol) (who’s locked up in an asylum) that his ravings about other worlds and said creatures are all true; a curious blend of children’s animation and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom is quite straightforward in its approach, but is let down by poor production values, an animation style that makes it look like a video game from the Nineties, and a script that juggles motivations and dialogue like a one-handed man in a chainsaw-catching competition.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017) / D: D.J. Caruso / 107m
Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Toni Collette, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Michael Bisping, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: 4/10 – the world is in peril from yet another technological McGuffin, and it’s up to extreme sports enthusiast/secret agent Xander Cage (Diesel) to save the day; with Diesel unable to get The Last Witch Hunter (2015) off the ground as another franchise earner, it’s no surprise that he’s returned to a character he left behind fifteen years ago, but this is as uninspired and as predictable as you’d expect, and only Yen’s (always) impressive physicality makes any kind of an impact.