As the weather starts to decline and winter coats come back out, suddenly we need something to do at the weekend, because sitting in a grey, muddy park doesn’t quite cut it – and BBQ season is well and truly behind us. Thankfully, distributors have our backs for we welcome in yet another fine array of cinematic releases, with several worthy of going to see this weekend.
We’re gonna begin with our favourite of the lot, the excellent debut feature film from Joe Talbot, written alongside the film’s enigmatic lead Jimmie Fails. The pair have been collaborating together since high school and now with the help of A24, bring this creative and unique production to the big screen – and it’s on the big screen where this visually indelible movie really ought to be seen. Through the prism of the lead character, with Fails playing himself, we delve into the notion of gentrification, and while specific of course to San Francisco, this feels like a comment on the ever-changing landscape of all major cities. The title alludes to the huge drop in the African-American population in the city, and this is explored via nostalgia, of the way things were, using a childhood home to elicit such emotions. Fails shines, Talbot directs with a certain confidence, and the supporting performance from Jonathan Majors is exceptional – and look out too for a moving performance from Danny Glover.
Talking of moving, this week also marks the release of By the Grace of God, which we first caught back at the Berlinale in February. Needless to say, such was the profound impact this film had on us, it’s not one we’ve managed to shake off easily. Francois Ozon, who so often revels in more farcically inclined endeavours, mostly told from a female perspective, now tries his hand at something dramatic, focusing this time on male protagonists, and importantly, on their vulnerability. This tells the devastating true story of a group of French men brought together through tragedy, to try and confront and take down the Priest that molested them as young boys. As we look into how these horrific incidents have affected each and every one of these poor men’s lives, their work and relationships, the film also takes on a double-narrative of sorts, as much of the story is about the challenge of trying to lock horns with an institution as great as the Catholic Church. What ensues is a moving production, helped along by the lead performances, most notably by Denis Menochet.
Onto the next one – and either we’re just in a strangely good mood, or this really is a good week, because we can happily report that even the new Terminator film is worth seeing. Believe us, we were surprised too. It’s been referred to as the rightful third feature in the series, discounting the preceding features, and acting instead a follow-on to Terminator 2. Not just narratively, but in terms of quality that’s a fair statement to make. The story here is relatively dull, it’s something we’ve seen before in this franchise, but the action set pieces are excellent, most notably the car chase in the opening act. It’s great to see Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor too, and of course Arnie finds a way in. But this is very much about the passing of the baton, as while it’s great to see the old faces back – it’s the newcomers which make this so watchable, with Mackenzie Davis, Gabriel Luna and Natalia Reyes – further enhancing the notion that in this cinematic property, women kick ass.
Talking of women kicking ass, we now look over to Black and Blue – a truly gripping thriller set across one night in New Orleans, and features a fine turn from the always-brilliant Naomie Harris. Though following the tropes of the thriller format, this cat and mouse chase across the streets of Louisiana is enriched greatly by the socio-political context, as a film that at its core is about identity, of a black female police officer trying to do her job in a predominantly African-American neighbourhood, exploring the conflict between the locals and the law enforcement. This is a film with a lot to say, and it takes you one helluva ride while telling it.
Another film we had a lot of fun this week was The Beach Bum, in a role that feels as though it was hand-crafted, delicately, as though painting a miniature wooden toy in a workshop – for Matthew McConaughey. He plays a character called Moondog, a rebellious stoner who just whatever the hell he wants, whenever the hell he can be bothered. It’s a film that will be divisive, and you can totally understand why somebody may not be on board with this film, but it’s got this spark to it, brought by the excellent central performance, and while hilarious in parts it’s pretty dark in others. But mostly you just wanna spend some time with Moondog. Though had this film been any longer he may have driven you mad. He’s the sort of friend you want at your dinner party, but hope he arrives just after dessert.
We now look to Chained for Life, a fascinating feature that is both tender and surreal, combining a gentle take of humanity with an overstated, surrealistic edge. Set on a movie set of a European auteur’s first English language movie, we delve into the relationship between a beautiful actress, played by Jess Weixler and her disfigured co-star, played by Adam Pearson. Working as something of a satire, scrutinising over our relationship with beauty at the pictures, emblematic of a film with a subtle comedic quality to it, it’s self-referential and meta at times, but ultimately is quite moving,and yet hard to distinguish exactly why. This is a film with so much going on, and worthy of a second viewing – and as you can probably tell, it’s also quite hard to summarise in a paragraph.
We won’t have that problem with Countdown, however, which is a very easy to watch horror that follows a simple yet entertaining premise, of an phone app that tells you when you’re going to die. Naturally, as this is a horror movie, it transpires that this ridiculous app is always spot on – and when lead role Quinn, played by Elizabeth Lail discovers she only has a couple days left to live, she has to try and change her fate – literally – and somehow avoid death. It’s absurd, of course, and stupid, naturally – but in some ways the only criticism that springs to mind is that we wish it played up to its absurdity a little more and just had a little more fun with its ultimately mad premise.
And lastly, we have The Addams Family, well the new animated remake, anyway. Naturally given the strength of this merry band of misfits that make up this great fictional family, there’s much scope in here for fun, and being animated gives limitless imagination, where anything is possible, and that is used here by the filmmakers, to make for a fun and engaging film that is easy to enjoy. However, when remaking something you just wish for a little more ingenuity, or purpose, and this lacks both in buckets. Plus, with the cast they’ve assembled, featuring the likes of Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, you can’t help but wish if they were gonna do it, they should’ve done it properly and made a live-action.