Film

Churchill/ Gifted/ Hampstead Heath

Mid month sees the release of Churchill (June 16). There have been some wonderful on-screen representation of Churchy in recent times (Timothy Spall in the Kings Speech and Jon Lithgow spring to mind), and this month Brian Cox becomes the latest to pick up the bowler hat and cigar.

Here is a little-known fun fact about Churchill: he was extremely bad with money. Like, Greek-government-circa-2010 bad with money. By 1938, his taste for fine cigars, race horses and “silk undergarments” had all but bankrupted him, but by the time he left office in 1945 he was a wealth man.

You see, Winston Churchill was as fine a hustler as he was a statesman, and had no qualms about using his personal brand to make it rain. Imagine the ruthless drive of a lavish Kardashian wrapped up in the body of a chain-smoking bulldog: that’s Churchy.

But I digress. Churchill is set in June 1944, just as the Allied Forces are on the verge of the D Day landings. A nervous Churchill fears that the disastrous events of Gallipoli will be repeated if the invasion fails, taking his career and the lives of countless soldiers with it.

But can Churchill put down the Harrods catalogue long enough to keep the Gerrys at bay? The fact that you’re reading this in English, not German, might be a bit of a spoiler but what better way to mark the 73rd anniversary of the D Day landings that watching the original Hannibal Lector (Cox) pretend to be Winston Churchill for a few hours?

In other news: who’s your favourite movie actor called Chris? Pine? Pratt? It’s Hemsworth isn’t it? Mine is Captain America himself, Chris Evans, even though he loses points for having the same name as the UK’s Chris Evans (ew). Anyway, Evans tries on a gentler persona this month in Gifted (June 16), where the only enemies to be battled are the ones that come from raising your prematurely deceased sister’s intellectually gifted child (uncertainty, interference from social services, not knowing how to tie a pony tail, etc.)

The story follows simple, but inconspicuously handsome, boat mechanic Frank (Evans) who’s been raising precocious Mary, a six year-old mathematics prodigy. When Frank realises he is just too darn simple and handsome to home-school the mini Carol Vorderman, he ships he off to the local school to learn how to do more maths and probably, some cyber bullying.

But Mary’s gift draws the attention of school administrators (and her estranged grandmother) who all want to push her to greater heights. Soon, there’s a custody battle and Frank is forced to make some difficult decisions about what the best thing is for his beloved niece. Boo! You should probably bring tissues to this one.

Finally this month, Hampstead Heath (June 23), in which an American (Diane Keaton) falls in love with a quirky and dishevelled park-dweller (Brendan Gleeson).

Keaton plays a widow who must have been married to a Russian oligarch, since she can afford property in Hampstead. Anyway, one day she espies beardy Brendan exiting the pond next to the shack he lives in like an Aldi Mr Darcy, and is instantly smitten. (Interesting aside: Gleeson also played Churchill, in 2009’s Into The Storm.)

So, when wicked property developers try buy the land so they can knock up some luxury apartments, Keaton’s character enlists the help of all her endearingly rich mates who pool their money, buy out the property developers and drown Gleeson in the pond as soon as possible before knocking up their own prestige living spaces.

Just kidding! Or maybe I’m not. There’s only one way to find out!

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Film

Mindhorn/ King Arthur: Legend of the Sword/

First up this month is Mindhorn (May 5), absurd British comedy from The Mighty Boosh‘s Julian Barratt. Barratt plays Richard Thorncroft, washed-up former star of cheesy ’80s detective series Mindhorn, in which he played the titular character, a detective with a bionic eyepatch that can literally “see the truth”.

But Mindhorn has not aged well and neither has its star who has become a flabby, impoverished has-been whose former co-stars (including Steve ‘I am more than Alan Partridge’ Coogan) have all gone on to enjoy greater success than he has.

But fate, it seems, has a third act planned for Mindhorn when a deranged killer on the run contacts police and insists that he will only negotiate with the former TV detective. The killer, Melly, (played by Russell Tovey) clearly has a tenous grasp on reality, but so does Mindhorn, so the police deem him the most appropriate person to negotiate with the unhinged Melly. But will he succeed? Well, either buy a bionic eye-patch or get down to your local multi-plex this week to find out.

Which leads us to our next cinematic offering, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (May 12) starring Queer As Folk’s Charlie Hunnam. It was really only a matter of time before some movie executives trundled out the old Excaliber legend for a spot of cinematic reanimation. This is just as well really, seeing as audiences don’t seem want new stories: they just want remakes of old ones with increasingly hotter casts. And on that at least, King Arthur: LotS seems to deliver.

The story follows Arthur on his journey from street urchin to sexy sword-wield monarch by way of some enthusiastic fight scenes and pensieve beard stroking. When Arthur’s father (Eric Bana) is murdered, and his crown seized by his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), little Artie is forced into hiding.

Robbed of his birthright and, over time the knowledge of his true lineage, Arthur lives the life of a petty street hoodlum (with a heart as golden as his beard, of course). But when Arthur manages the impossible and pulls Excaliber from its stone, he is suddenly forced to confront the truth of his identity while kicking a lot of bad guy ass.

Lastly this month, a wee nip of warming Scottish humour in the form of Whisky Galore (May 19) a remake of the 1949 Ealing classic of the same name. The movie recounts a real-life event, namely the scuttling of the SS Politician, a 8000-ton cargo ship sailing for Kingston, Jamaica and New Orleans with a cargo including 28,000 cases of malt whisky, which aground off the coast of Eriskay Island in the Outer Hebrides in 1941.

The story is thus: the inhabitants of a Scottish island whose supply of whisky has been curtailed due to war-time rationing think their prayers to St Johnny Walker have been answered when a cargo ship carring 50,000 cases of whisky runs aground on their coast.

Naturally, they sail out and shanghai as many bottles as they can carry before the ship capsizes. But punctilious Home Guard officer Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard) is determined to confiscate every stolen bottle and enters into a cat-and-mouse game with the locals, who have even less time for jumped-up Englishmen than they have for sobriety. Gentle, light-hearted comedy fare.

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Film

Raw/ The Handmaiden/ Handsome Devil

This month sees the release of French horror Raw (April 7). Be warned: paramedics were called after some Toronto film goers fainted during a screening of the movie. Cinemas in LA even provided audiences members with sick bags on the way in film. So, you know, maybe don’t fill up on steak tartare and foie gras before you go.

Raw follows the life of Justine, a precocious vegetarian veterinarian student who turns from plant-eater to ravenous cannibal after being forced to eat a raw rabbit liver during a vet school initiation.

After going full-Hannibal on the bunny liver, Justine’s appetite for organs and offal escalates point where only the rarest (pun definitely intended) meat of all will do: human. As director Julia Ducournau has been quick to clarify, Raw is no generic gore-fest; though it maybe gruesome it is also a nuanced coming-of-age story which deserves more than to be classed as garden-variety ‘body horror’.

Mid month sees the release of the The Handmaiden (April 14), based on Sarah Water’s 2005 lesbian classic novel Fingersmith. However, director Park Chan-wook (Lady Vengeance, Oldboy) has transplanted the action from Victorian-era Britain to 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation.

Anyway, the action centres on Tamako, a poor villager hired by well-to-do Japanese heiress Lady Hideko to be her handmaiden. So, Tamako packs her bags and heads off for a life off domestic servitude in a Lady Hideko’s plush country pile. But – dun, dun, dun! – there is a twist! Tamako is actually a con-woman named Sook-hee working a partner, Count Fujiwara, to cheat Lady H out of her riches. This is easier said then done, however, especially when Sook-hee begins to develop feelings for Lady H.

Also this month, another coming-of-age movie (sans entrails this time, thankfully), Irish-made Handsome Devil (April 21). Set in a rugby-mad boys boarding school it follows two opposites, nerdy, musical Ned and rugger alpha male Conor, who become unlikely allies after being forced to bunk together.

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is sent to boarding school by his disinterested father (Ardal O’Hanlon) and wicked stepmother (Amy Huberman), despite hating rugby, and the regular bullying that inevitably comes with hating rugby in a sports-obsessed school. When handsome rugby legend Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) is assigned to his room Ned immediately assumes the worst and erects a ‘Berlin Wall’ to keep himself safe.

But Conor isn’t simply one-dimensional meat-head worthy of only Ned’s contempt – he is a man of hidden depths, as Ned eventually discovers. Written and directed by novelist John Butler and featuring an amazing cast (which includes Sherlock’s Andrew Scott AND Game of Thrones‘ villainous Michael McElhatton), Handsome Devil is a solid Irish movie, and a worthy addition to the pantheon of excellent recent Irish movie releases (A Date for Mad Mary, Young Offenders, Sing Street).

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Film

A Date For Mad Mary/ Young Offenders/ Sausage Party

Kicking off the month in fine style is Irish movie A Date for Mad Mary (September 2), winner of the Audience Award at this year’s GAZE festival.

The story follows the eponymous Mary upon her completion of a six-month prison stretch for a vicious assault. Returning to her home town of sunny Drogheda, Mary sets about rekindling her friendship with soon-to-be married ex-bessie Charlene. However, Charlene has outgrown Mary, as evidenced by her increasingly distant demeanor and her refusal give Mary a plus one to the wedding.

Unable to face her friend’s rejection, and desperate to prove her worth, Mad Mary sets about find a date for the wedding. After a parade of laughable losers she encounters lovely chanteuse Jess and a ray of hope penetrates her wounded warrior ways. Prepare for the feels, viewers.

And there’s another Irish film on offer this month (yay!), Young Offenders (September 16), this one inspired by Ireland’s largest cocaine seizure off the Cork coast in 2007.

The action centres on inner-city ne’er do wells Jock and Connor, typical Garda-baiting, bum fluff-sporting rascally teens.

When a boat carrying 61 bales of cocaine capsizes off the coast, the lads, hearing that one bale – worth €7 million– is missing, head to West Cork to find the missing coke.

But things are very seldom straight-forward when there’s a massive brick of cocaine involved and soon the lads and their supporting cast (featuring Naked Camera’s PJ Gallagher and Republic of Telly’s Hilary Rose) find themselves in some deep water. The gowls! Go see it and support Irish film.

Ostensibly a parody of emotionally-manipulative Disney Pixar flicks, Seth Rogan’s Sausage Party (September 20) gets a long-awaited release this month.

Rude, crude and full of epicurean entendres, Sausage Party centres on the anthropomorphic foodstuffs (voiced by Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig and a host of others) in a supermarket as they alternate between longing to be picked up by a shopper and carried off to the Great Beyond, and longing to have sex with each other. This is a sexually charged supermarket – sort of like the Spar on Parliament Street after pub closing time.

Anyway, after learning the truth about what really happens to them once they’re carted off (geddit) by the shoppers – peeled, sliced, roasted and consumed – outraged Frankfurter Frank (Rogan) sets off on a quest for answers. Definitely one for fans of silly stoner fare.

This piece first appeared in GCN, September 2016

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Film

Suicide Squad/ Mike and Dave Need Dates/ David Brent: Life on the Road

Kicking off the cinematic shenanigans this month is Suicide Squad (August 5). Given that this is a hot contender for ‘Most Hyped Movie Of The Year’, I’ll dispense with the laundry list of A-listers appearing (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie etc) and get down to the plot.

Super secret government agency A.R.G.U.S, led by Amanda Waller (The Help’s Viola Davis), compiles a all-star squad comprised of incarcerated super villains. Their mission? To undertake various shady black-ops missions in an effort to chisel time off their respective sentences. Sounds legit.

But will Suicide Squad be fitting apology for the disappointment of Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice? And will Jared Leto ever be able to scrub off those henna tatts? There’s only one way to find out!

Released mid-month is Mike and Dave Need Dates (August 10) starring Zac Effron.

I already know what you’re thinking; this is obviously going to be some sort of crude, semen-scented dude comedy, but please observe the casting of the females leads. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick are not super sexy vixens (though they are attractive, of course) but are well regarded for their comedy chops, more so then their sex appeal.

The story is simple: hard-partying brothers Mike (Modern Family’s Adam DeVine) and Dave (Efron) are instructed by their sister to find appropriate dates for her upcoming Hawaiian wedding, in order to prevent them from ruining the big day with their excessive joie de vivre.

So, they appear on a TV show appealing for dates, which puts them into contact with slovenly hucksters Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick) who set out to trick the guys into believe they are respectable, Charlotte from SATC types, perfect for a family wedding. And they succeed, but the guys soon learn the truth about the girls after spotting them smoking weed from a hollowed out apple on the beach. Comedy ensues.

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It’s called an apple bong, if you’re wondering

After Bad Neighbours, I began to come around to Zac Effron. He’s not terrible at comedy you guys, even if his attempts at dramatic pathos are so terrible they make Joey from Friend’s ‘Smell the Fart’ acting style look like Laurence Olivier.

Nonetheless, this has got something for everyone: brainless laughs, Audrey Plaza and Zac Effron for the (sorta) sex appeal, and a capable, familiar cast.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 15 years since the world’s cringiest mockumentary boss awkwardly danced his way onto our TV screens and into our hearts. It has been, though, and somehow the world has managed to continue spinning after the end of The Office in 2003 (and the end of the show’s surprisingly good American remake in 2013).

With such international turmoil and global instability, the world needs the return of David Brent now more than ever. And luckily, there’s beaucoup Brent in the form of David Brent: Life of the Road (August 15).

The finale of the show’s brief run (which lasted only two seasons and a two-part Christmas special) saw Brent fired from the titular office before capitalising on the z-list fame generated by the mockumentary by engaging in a series of humiliating public appearances at Slough’s nightclubs.

David Brent: Life on the Road picks up the action 15 years after the events of The Office. Brent, now a nomadic office supplies sales rep selling paperclips and tampons, embarks on a tour with his band Foregone Conclusion. Deluded as ever, Brent believes the filming of the tour (which he is funding out of his pension) will be a Scorcese-esque portrait of a genius on the road, when in fact it is a ‘where are they now’ follow-up on the ludicrous (deludicrous?) Brent.

There’s clearly a bit of wish fulfilment going on here; although it’s all very tongue-in-cheek Gervais, whose ’80s new-wave band Seona Dancing scored a hit single in the Philippines, is clearly enjoying the chance to play a (albeit clueless) strutting rock star, singing songs co-written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

But will it be any good? Too early to say: for every ‘The Office’ Gervais creates there’s a ‘Life’s Too Short’, but the chance to hear him wheel out cringy classics like ‘Free Love Freeway’ and Paris Nights is almost too much to resist.

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Film

Legend of Tarzan/ Maggie’s Plan/ Summertime

Opening the month in muscular style is Legend of Tarzan (July 8) starring the delightful Alexander Skarsgård and a menagerie of CGI creatures.

For those unfamiliar with the story (perhaps you were raised by tree-dwelling mammals?), it centres on the titular Tarzan, (played by True Blood’s viking vampire, Skarsgård) who is raised by gorillas and other a number of other wild beasts after his mother and father perish.

In an new twist on the much-filmed tale, the film begins with Tarzan, now going by John Clayton III/ Lord Greystoke living the gentile life of an English aristocrat. Instead of showing the hackneyed ‘taming of the beast’ story arc, the opening focuses on a very tame Lord Greystoke strutting around London with his spiffing wife Jane (played by Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie), ten years after leaving the jungle.

After being appointed trade emissary to the Congo by the British Parliament, Lord Tarzan is pitched back into the jungly life he left behind, without realising that he is a pawn in the evil schemes of dastardly villain Captain Rom (played by the always-excellent Christoph Waltz). Can the very ripped Tarzan save Jane, foil Rom’s evil machinations and still have time for Leg Day? Hop the nearest vine down to your local cinema to find out.

Out on the same day is Maggie’s Plan (July 8), which begins as a generic rom-com but turns into a comedic caper.

The story is thus: meticulous teacher Maggie (Greta Gerwig), ever the practical soul, decides that she cannot depend on Mr Right showing up and impregnating her, so she turns to artisanal pickle entrepreneur Guy to help her. Then, as is wont to happen, life throws her a curve ball in the form of hunky, but married John (Ethan Hawke, who only gets cast in rom-coms these days).

Soon enough John leaves his crazy, but brilliant, wife Georgette (Julianne Moore, with a comical Danish accent) for a life with Maggie, and the live happily ever after. Just kidding! After a few years of marriage to John she discovers that he is in fact, a bit of a dick. In a quirky, if not unexpected turn of events, Maggie decides that the best way to unburden herself of John is by foisting him back on his ex-Georgette. Luckily, Georgette is on-board and so, comedic capers ensue. Will she succeed? And will Ethan Hawke ever get cast in a non-rom-com again? Only time will tell!

At the tail end of the month is French indie flick Summertime (La Belle Saison) (July 15). After doing the festival rounds for a while now this quirky coming of age tale is final being granted a cinematic release (though probably not beyond the IFI).

Set in the 1970s, Summertime follows country girl Delphine who leaves her rural home for the bright lights of gay Paris. Once there, she promptly replaces her farmer’s dungarees and piece of chewing straw with a leather jacket and a Gauloises, before joining a radical feminist group.

Before long, Delphine finds herself irresistibly drawn to the group’s charismatic leader Carole, and when it becomes clear that the attraction is mutual, the two connect.

However, when Delphine’s father falls ill (quelle Domage!), a difficult choice presents itself: should she stay in Paris or follow her family’s wishes to remain on the farm and marry the boy next door?

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Film, History

Elvis & Nixon/ Gods of Egypt/ The Boss

At the top of the month, Melissa McCarthy struts her sassy stuff in The Boss (June 10) in which she plays a women who looks like disgraced TV chef/racist Paula Dean (disgracist?) but acts like disgraced TV chef/ white collar criminal Martha Stewart.

The story opens on successful business tycoon Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) who’s running her empire all FTSE-loose and fancy-free until she gets busted for insider trading.

After six months in the pen’ with Crazy Eyes and the gals she’s released and as she’s newly penniless, she’s forced to move in with her long-suffering PA, Claire (Kristen Bell). While living with Claire and her adorbz daughter, Michelle hits upon her best money-making venture yet: a baking company to rival the evil Girl Scouts who surely have a merit-badge for ‘greatest market stranglehold’ with their dry-ass cookies.

What sounds like part- Troop Beverly Hills, part-Down and Out in Beverly Hills is sadly, like neither of those movies. Despite McCarthy’s comic prowess, critics have given this one a thorough mauling (“There’s nothing going on in “The Boss” except Melissa McCarthy groveling for affection from the same viewers who already bought tickets to see her,” says the RogerEbert.com review.)

We’re still hopeful for Ghostbusters though, right?

Did you know that the most requested photo of all time from the American National Photo Archives is one of a bloated Elvis shaking hands with a toothy Nixon? Tired of all the requests the ANPA have no doubt decided to release a movie about the event, Elvis & Nixon (June 17) in a bid to get people to shut the hell up about it.

I must confess that at first I misread the title as ‘Elvis Vs Nixon’ and thought it was perhaps an addition to the Predator Vs Alien, Freddy Vs Jason ‘versus’ series of movies, but alas, it is not.

Allegedly based on true events, the movie chronicles the bizarre meeting in 1970 of Elvis (Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Shannon) and US President Richard Milhaus (haw, haw!) Nixon (Kevin Spacey). Legend has it that Elvis showed up on the White House lawn insisting on an audience with the POTUS, and being Elvis, received one. Never one to miss a photo op Nixon agreed to the meeting. Why, you may ask, did Elvis, by then in the twilight of his career and very fond of cheeseburgers and pills, request a meeting with America’s squarest president?

It was all a elaborate plan to get a Federal Agent’s badge, which Elvis secretly believe would make it easier for him to cross international boundaires with all his guns and myriad narcotics. That scamp! Anyway, Elvis & Nixon sees both Shannon and Spacey do their best impressions: though Shannon’s face is a little too Herman Munster-ish to really portray the King, while Spacey’s performance pales in comparison to that of Frost/Nixon‘s excellent Frank Langella.

Released on the same day is already much-maligned historical white face-fest, Gods of Egypt (June 17). Gerard Butler and Game of Thrones‘ golden handed sister shagger, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The plot is thus: vicious, but broodingly sexy Egyptian god of darkness, Set (Gerard ‘I’ll Do Whatever Accent I Want’ Butler) bests goodie-goddie god Horus (Coster-Waldau), plucking out his eyes and seizing control of the empire. Eww.

Enter brave mortal Bek, with two turn tables and a microphone, and a plan to stop Set by enlisting Horus’ help. Cue lots of OTT CGI, lots of ancient Egyptians with bizarrely Anglacised accents and, like, zero actual Egyptians, even though there’s a couple of good ones floating around the acting-sphere (looking at you, Mr Robot‘s Rami Malek).

Given the ferocious pummeling the movie’s producers received for firstly having an all white (almost– there’s one black guy) cast and later, for having released a terrible movie, perhaps they should’ve spent more time on basics like actors and scripts instead of CGI shennanigans.

However, no plot contrived by a Hollywood script writer could ever compare to the most popular legend about Set, Horus and bit of lettuce.

The story goes that Set, eternally locked in a battle for supremecy with his precoccious nephew Horus, one night decides to Bill Cosby his relative rival, plying him full of booze and attempting to rape him. However, a sober Horus manages to place his hand between his legs and catch Set’s, er, essence.

The next morning he runs to his ma, Isis (sidenote: it’s super ironic that a group so dedicated to the destruction of antiquity share a name with an Egyptian goddess, non?) who does what any good mother would do and chops off his hand off. Then she rubs some special ‘lotion’ on Horus’ phallus, causing him to ejaculate, whereupon she snatches that shit up in a pot.

Still with me? Then she goes to Set’s garden and to find out what his favourite food is. Lettuce, the gardener tells her (possibily the maddest aspect of this whole saga: who the fuck loves lettuce? Though it was considered an aphrodisiac during this period, so maybe not surprising that sex-pest Set loved it). So, Isis prompts smears Horus’ semen all over the lettuce, ’90s gross-out comedy style, and waits for Set to get munching.

So, Horus and Set appear in front of Thoth, mediator of godly disputes, and tell their respective stories. “Horus can’t be ruler of Egypt, I jizzed all over him!” says Set. “Nuh-uh! I jizzed on you!” says Horus. “Fuck this,” says Thoth before casting a nifty incantation to ‘bring forth’ the aforemention semen. And so he does and it bursts forth, appearing as a solid golden disc floatinf above Set’s head. “Well, that’s me fucked, I suppose,” says Set, who concedes defeat and accepts Horus as Egypt’s ruler. THE END. They don’t make make stories like that any more, I think you’ll agree.

Probably for the best.

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