Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

What's it about? Downbeat college lecturer Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees his exact double acting in a film and resolves to find out who he is. Things get a bit weird.


Is it any good? Be warned - Enemy sets itself up as a psychological thriller, but it is not a straightforward film. Events and people depicted may be real or imagined, the chronology is probably not linear, there's recurring spider motifs and the final scene is a genuinely WTF?! moment. Don't expect any easy explanations. But ruminate on it for a while (and it is likely to lurk in the dark corners of your mind for a bit) and it begins to make sense, even if some aspects remain open to interpretation. A gloomy palette and score help create a claustrophobic, uneasy atmosphere which match the themes of oppression and entrapment, also helped by Gyllenhaal's downbeat performance(s). If you're a prospective father worried about commitment, best avoid this. If you are already a father, you'll know all about the spiders already. Or if you didn't, you will after watching this.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Caused no small amount of head-scratching amongst viewers, but there were many favourable comparisons to David Lynch, Orwell's 1984 and the works of Kafka, whilst the recent Doestoevsky adapatation The Double makes for an interesting companion piece. But what does it all mean? Well, neither Gyllenhaal or Villeneuve seems prepared to explain it clearly for us (perhaps they can't?), but you'll find any number of theories on t'Interweb. The most comprehensive comes from this guy, whose explanation runs to 25 mins. Elsewhere, it's always fun to check out baffled viewer comments on IMDB when it comes to this sort of film.

"I would rather sit on a soiled nappy eating raw spinach while watching a infomercial on kitchen Mop's than watch this film again."

"i think some guy who probably thinks he's an artist, knocked up some woman, cant handle any responsibility... so he got drunk and baked then wrote this piece of garbage while taking a dump"

"whatever was going on with the spider just confused me."

Hard to argue with that, but I kinda liked the film.

What does the Fonz think? What a tangled web we weave....

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2013)

What's it about? On a frozen, post-apocalyptic Earth, the only human survivors live on a train endlessly circling the globe at high speed. Trouble brews when the poor passengers in the cramped, squalid tail carriage, led by the brooding Curtis (Chris Evans), attempt to fight their way through the train to take over the front carriages where the privileged rich passengers live in luxury.


Is it any good? If Brazil and The Hunger Games had a baby during a trans-continental inter-railing holiday, it might turn out a lot like Snowpiercer. Jostling for standing room we have elements of sci-fi dystopia, class satire, political allegory, black comedy, action thriller and surreal parable, all within the structure of a violent video game as we move through the various boss-fights of each carriage (level). And I'm struggling to remember the last film I watched in which the hero admitted to eating a baby. A BABY! In lesser hands the absurdity of the concept might have resulted in, well, a total train-wreck, but Bong Joon-ho's ambitious vision has resulted in a bonkers, but beautifully shot piece of cinema - genuinely a one-of-a-kind film. Special mention too to the cast (including Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner and a terrific Tilda Swinton) who play things admirably straight throughout. It's certainly not perfect, but it's probably the most enjoyable post-apocalyptic, darkly funny Korean-French-American-Czech dystopian sci-fi action film and class satire set on a train I've ever seen. So it is.

I don't trust you. What do others think? There was much excitement in Hollywood about Bong Joon-ho's English-language debut, following the success of his impressively varied Korean movies, including Memories of Murder, Mother and The Host. But Harvey Weinstein, who owned the US distribution rights, couldn't live with Bong's final cut and demanded it be heavily edited before release to make it more accessible to audiences. Bong refused and a protracted tug-of-war over its US release ensued. Bong eventually prevailed and his version was given a very limited release which effectively ruined its chances of being successful. Or did it? It seems that not even Harvey Weinstein knows everything, because strong word-of-mouth and glowing reviews meant that a wider re-release for the film was subsequently arranged to meet public demand. Meanwhile, a similarly positive reception across the rest of the world, both at the box-office and on streaming services, meant that the film did reach an audience. Hooray! It seems people really do want to see something a bit different now and then. And now you can too  - watch it here (but don't tell the inspector!). Or if you're too honest, just read the original graphic novel instead.

What does the Fonz think? Tickets please!! All aboard!!






Plane Triple Bill

A trans-Atlantic flight meant a chance to catch up with some films that had passed me by. You too can see this if you jump on a plane to the US. Or you could just rent them, as they're all recently available on DVD and streaming services. Probably cheaper that way. And you can eat less crappy food whilst watching them.


In Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughan, 2015) Taron Egerton plays a teenage tearaway taken under the wing of suave super-spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) as they attempt to foil a diabolical plot for world domination by megalomaniac Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). It's an enjoyable action-comedy, mixing deliberately over-the-top action set-pieces with self-knowing winks at the audience about the spy genre that it is both celebrating and sending-up. That said, there's a slight uneasiness about the casual violence on display and it does all feel like a 15-year-old boy's wish-fulfillment fantasy, particularly when it culminates with a badly-judged attempt to one-up the Bond style sexual innuendo. Bond just about pulled it off (*snigger*), here it's just crass and unnecessary. Let's hope the inevitable sequel shows a bit more class and maturity.


American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2015) tells the true-life story of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who racked up at least 160 kills over four tours of duty in Iraq. It's an efficient war movie, with predictable set-pieces assembled together in customary unfussy style by Eastwood. As one might expect, however, it alters some real facts for dramatic effect and plays down the more unsavory aspects of both its main character and the US involvement in the Iraq war, which means it runs dangerously close to glorifying its subject at times. As such, it lacks the intelligence and layers of, say, Zero Dark Thirty or TV mini-series Generation Kill, but view it as just a film and it'll pass the time alright.


Still Alice (Glatzer & Westmoreland, 2015) is the best of the three films here, but it's also the toughest watch, an unflinching look at how Alice (Julianne Moore) and her family are affected when she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. It's a story set-up which ultimately celebrates family and love, although in making Alice a celebrated professor of linguistics, therefore suggesting her affliction is all the more devastating, it perhaps over-eggs things a bit unnecessarily. Nevertheless, it's sensitively observed, thanks in part to the input from co-director Richard Glatzer who himself suffered from a debilitating neurological disease which sadly resulted in his death just a few months after the film was completed. Moore, who won a well-deserved Oscar, is typically brilliant as the proud woman slowly losing control over her brain and words, a process which is heartbreaking and upsetting to watch. Indeed, it's almost like a horror film with the disease an unstoppable, implacable foe, but all the more frightening for being something that could affect you in real life. For that reason, it may not be everyone's choice of film if you're looking for some entertainment of an evening, but if you're looking for something affecting that will impact on the emotions and, ironically, the brain, look no further.

Quick Triple Bill for May

Film viewing has slowed to a crawl because I'm re-watching The Wire - the greatest TV show of the last 20 years, incidentally - you can learn everything you need to know about life from it. But I learned a bit from the films below too. Starting with...

Oscar Isaac IS Al Pacino!*
(*not really)
A Most Violent Year (JC Chandor, 2015) is a fine blue-collar drama set in NY in the early 80s as an ambitious entrepreneur (Oscar Isaac) struggles with corruption, threatening competitors and hassle from the authorities in his bid to make it big. It's a throwback to the kind of measured character-driven films Hollywood used to make in the 70s and particularly impressive in the recreation of the time and setting. It is a bit slow at times, but it's very well acted, especially by Isaac, who puts in a great performance as Al Pacino.


If you prefer something more peaceful, how about a Korean film about a young man living on a floating island learning the ways of Buddhism? Wait! Come back! Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003) is really good! It may not sound like much, but it’s a beautiful, deep film which deals with the circle of life in captivating fashion. It's the cinematic equivalent of meditation - if this doesn't stir your soul, you are dead to me.


The Other Boleyn Girl (Justin Chadwick, 2008) is a handsomely mounted, but fairly uninspired tale of royal intrigue in the court of King Henry VIII. Historians will no doubt have conniption fits about the way the film simplifies the various machinations surrounding Anne Boleyn's rise and fall, but even allowing for such dramatic license, it disappointingly paints both characters and events with fairly broad strokes. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana mean it's easy on the eye, but you would be better off with the much superior BBC mini-series Wolf Hall which covers the same material with considerably more aplomb.

That's it - short and sweet - off I go now back to Baltimore. S'All in the game, yo.

Mad Max : Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

What's it about? In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) ends up on board a oil tanker driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as they are pursued by a fleet of souped-up jalopies piloted by crazed members of a death cult. 'Sit back and relax', the cinema announcement said. Some chance.



Is it any good? VRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!! CrassshhhhHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! Monster Truck. Oil Tanker. DRUM SOLO!!!! Jesus wept - MY EARS!! BANGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!! POWWWW!! SCREEEEEECHHH!!!!!!!! Flame-thrower. Guitar solo. NO - WAIT! MAKE THAT A FLAME-THROWING GUITAR SOLO!!! HOLY SHIT! DID YOU SEE THAT? Digger-rig! Tank thing! Kick-Start scramblers! KABOOOOMMMM!!!!!! And breathe. No, to hell with breathing - LET'S GO AGAIN!!! MY EYES!! WHAAAMMM!!! WHOPPP!!! SSSHHHH-BLAMMMO!!! And rest. Bloody hell, that was mental.


I don't trust you. What do others think? Unanimous acclaim for the brilliantly orchestrated action mayhem on display, all put together by the 70-year-old Miller, who had polished his action skills on the original Mad Max trilogy, as well as, er, Babe 2 and the Happy Feet films. Whilst purists might still prefer the CGI-free stunts of Mad Max 2:The Road Warrior as a slice of carmaggeddon, this remake not only delivers immensely satisfying chase action, but has taken many by surprise with its strong feminist undertones - check out the very funny Feminist Mad Max tumblr blog for evidence. See, it becomes clear early on that Max is actually a fairly grumpy, monosyllabic, occasionally useful side-kick to the real star Furiosa, stirringly played by Theron. Along with her feisty female companions, she is striking back (and I mean literally striking back) against an oppressive patriarchal society, a subtext which makes it a bit more that just a mindless slice of violent entertainment. And come to think of it.....a journey across a desolate dust bowl in hope of finding paradise, only to meet with much hardship before ending up celebrating the courage of women? This is actually The Grapes of Wrath remake, isn't it? It even has breast-feeding. Should have been called The Joad Warrior.

What does the Fonz think? Mad Mad: Hell hath no Fury Road.