New films: Sly, Denzel, Bill, and l’il Lynch & Cronenberg

3 Feb
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Denzel Washington in Flight: the thinking man’s drinker

Note: this is the first in a weekly fix of new-release round-ups, saving you time and money. In future, I will post it on Fridays (as well as other blogs here and there).

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. When people used to smile wistfully and say, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore”, they meant screwball comedies, or heart-warming romances for the whole family. But now, fortysomething film fans might be thinking that about Bullet to the Head.

Stallone is on a mission to bring back the ‘80s, thankfully minus the haircuts. After two Execrables (sorry, Expendables), this is another testosterone-fuelled, muscle-packed, tattoo-laden fightfest, with a Ronseal slogan for a title.

The good news is that Bullet to the Head is directed by Walter Hill. He has always taken violence to mythic extremes: The Warriors (1979) was stuffed with classical allusions from Xenophon. If action’s what you want, Hill delivers it a little more satisfyingly than most.

With Arnie back in The Last Stand, and Terminator 5, Triplets and The Legend of Conan in the pipeline, it’s as though the last quarter-century never happened.

Another week, another Oscar contender. Flight features a subtle, career-best performance from Denzel Washington as a brilliant pilot who rescues his plane from a fireball, but is subsequently found to be alcoholic. Is he a national hero, or a menace?

There’s a classic piece of acting advice, which most ignore. It’s not to play drunk. Drunk people pretend to be sober – most actors are sober people pretending to be drunk, and it shows. [Actresses also take note: people given terrible news usually try to contain their grief, not let it out.] Anyway, Denzel nails his character. The opening flight scenes are as thrilling as you would expect from director Robert Zemeckis, too.

It’s always a pleasure to watch Bill Murray, in those rare moments he isn’t turning up unannounced at student parties or rescuing random people in unexpected ways (see the cult of www.billmurraystory.com). But his charming performance as President ‘FDR’ Roosevelt, being courted for the war effort by King George VI, isn’t enough to lift Hyde Park on Hudson. Plus… no werewolves! What’s that all about? FDR: American Badass gave us Nazi werewolves, so we’re definitely short-changed here.

Finally, welcome please the Next Generation in cult film-making:

Chained is directed by Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David. Astonishing they let her near a movie camera again after Boxing Helena (1993), the heart-warming story of a man who loves a woman too much – so much he cuts off her arms and legs and keeps her in a box. Chained is about a serial-killing New York cabbie called, yes Twin Peaks fans, Bob. Ah well. What kind of films do you expect from someone who grew up knowing Eraserhead was inspired by her birth?

Antiviral is the low-budget but beautifully shot debut of 32-year-old Brandon Cronenberg, son of David. The premise is intriguing: a clinic harvests viruses from sick celebrities to sell to rabid fans, so they can catch the same illness. Far-fetched? Maybe not. Is it really that far from the Britney Spears fans who were encouraged by internet pranksters to Go Bald for Britney after spreading rumours that she had cancer, or the Beliebers who were made to Cut4Bieber when he was pictured smoking a joint?

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