MonthAugust 2016

The 9th Life of Louis Drax review – weirdly watchable thriller

Horror film-maker Alexandre Aja turns in a tonally odd supernatural thriller which hits its stride when creepy stuff starts to happen Actor and screenwriter Max Minghella has adapted Liz Jensen’s 2004 novel for the cinema; horror specialist Alexandre Aja directs, and the result is a supernatural mystery thriller, slightly overcooked and tonally odd – and uncertain if its juvenile lead is supposed to be cute or sinister. But it is watchable and even intriguing in its weird way. Canadian star Sarah Gadon is in full Hitchcock-blonde mode as Natalie Drax, the mother of a strange, accident-prone boy called Louis (Aiden Longworth). Poor Louis tumbles from a cliff, after a confrontation with his violent stepfather Peter (Aaron Paul) during a family picnic, but miraculously survives in a coma and comes under the care of Dr Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), a specialist in sleepwalking and consciousness while in a vegetative state. Creepy stuff starts happening. It’s a bit ridiculous, but hits its own quirky stride – quite similar to Soderbergh’s thriller Side Effects in its way. Not a bad rental. Continue reading…

Izzy Bizu: A Moment of Madness review – relentlessly sweet jazz-soul-pop

(Epic) Nominated for the 2016 Brits Critics’ Choice and BBC Sound Of polls, Isobel Beardshaw – as Bizu was before launching her career, aged 16, in the group SoundGirl – is angling for the jazz/soul space inhabited by Amy Winehouse and Lianne La Havas. She is both helped and hindered by her unflagging sunniness: whether a song calls for the hiccupy sweetness that is her vocal calling card, or clawing intensity, it’s always underscored by her innate optimism. This makes for a very agreeable summer cocktail – aptly, it was originally scheduled for a June release – but comes up short if you prefer breeziness to be sometimes clouded by messier emotions. No matter the subject – from her preferred male body type in the acid-jazzy Skinny to agonising relationship uncertainty on the 60s-funk Gorgeous – Bizu’s tone is permanently fizzy. That ebullience goes to an interesting place on White Tiger’s Regina Spektorish quirkiness; but elsewhere, when Bizu sings the line “There’s glass on the kitchen floor”, echoing a line from Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good, it just affirms that she’s no Winehouse. Continue reading…

The Night Of review: a frightened young man on the road to hell

This HBO murder drama slides into something deeper about the randomness of justice, with Riz Ahmed a hypnotic lead character Nasir Khan is a good boy: polite, honest, innocent, adorable, A-grade college swot, mummy’s boy, aunties’ boy. But he is still a boy, so the unexpected invitation by some less good boys to a downtown party with the promise of “mad females” (hot girls I think) is irresistible – to the extent that when Naz’s ride falls through he nicks his dad’s yellow cab (this is New York). It – the night of The Night Of (Sky Atlantic) – will be a big one, the biggest of Naz’s life. The night starts badly, relatively. He doesn’t know where he’s going, or how to switch on the cab’s off-duty light. People get in, he politely asks them to get out – Naz K ain’t no Travis B, it would appear. Things look up when a “mad female” gets in and asks to be taken to the beach. Now it doesn’t seem to matter so much that Naz isn’t going to make the party. Continue reading…

Jim: The James Foley Story review – heartfelt film of brave frontline reporting

A documentary about the US journalist killed by Islamic State is a touching tribute, though it’s the footage shot by Foley that shows the full horror of the Syrian war Nothing typifies the homicidal sadism and spite of Islamic State quite as much as its kidnapping and public murder in 2014 of James Foley, an American journalist covering the war in Syria. It also marked a larger moment of chaos: the west had once been backing rebel opposition to Assad; now the jihadis were a dominant part of this opposition, and the concept of intervention was more of a nightmare than ever. Related: A film portrait of James Foley: ‘Jim was a kid who loved adventure’ Continue reading…

ChickLit review – mummy-porn shenanigans fail to arouse

This Britcom about a bunch of locals trying to save their village pub by writing a Fifty Shades of Grey-style bestseller is hammily acted and clunkily scripted There are one or two moments of amiably daft silliness here, but really this British comedy is ropey: dully and depressingly lit, hammily acted and clunkily scripted (except for one or two lines that I suspect are down to Miles Jupp who provided “additional material”). It is nowhere near TV standards. Yet film-maker Tony Britten has assembled quite a cast, including Eileen Atkins as a Peggy-Ramsay-style literary agent and John Hurt as her boozy, moustachioed colleague. Continue reading…

Ward Thomas: Cartwheels review – slick country pop and millennial whoops

(WTW/Sony) With their perfectly polished harmonies and smiling dispositions, Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas aren’t going to do much to dispel the myth of telepathic twindom. Hailing from the Hampshire village of Liss rather than a rural corner of the US, the 22-year-olds were first introduced to country music by a Canadian cousin. Despite being independently released, their self-released debut album hit No 1 on the UK country charts in 2014, leading to this, their first major label offering. Like their idol Taylor Swift, the pair have now moved from out-and-out country to a more mainstream sound: ode to friendship Carry You Home retains their trademark two-part vocals and twangy chords, but ups the BPM to a frenetically dancey pace, while the recently discovered millennial whoop beloved of everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to Frank Ocean features on Guilty Flowers and Boomerang; Ward Thomas are certainly not operating in a cowboy-booted, leather-vested vacuum. The overall effect is a technically proficient slice of modern country-pop, but one that is unlikely to have T-Swift losing much sleep. Continue reading…