And Inherent Vice is our top pick…

Sherlock causes a stir, but there’s always someone who pushes things too far…

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That was the week in which...

Benedict Cumberbatch caused controversy by describing black actors as “coloured”.

The irony was that Cumberbatch was criticising the lack of opportunities in the UK for ethnic minority actors compared to the States. Such phrasing would’ve been considered dubious when Ben was a child, but in the context of 2015 it’s thoroughly archaic. It would seem from the wording of his apology that he soon realised his mistake: “I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive.”

David Oyelowo portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the upcoming film Selma and was inadvertently involved in a recent controversy when Oscar voters – 94% white, 76% men and with an average age of 63 – didn’t shortlist him for Best Actor for his performance. He came to Cumberbatch’s defence: “To attack him for a term, as opposed to what he was actually saying, I think is very disingenuous and is indicative of the age we live in where people are looking for sound bites as opposed to substance.”

In a time in which headlines often seem to indicate a different story to the actual article, it’s hard to disagree. And this negative incident has concluded as positively as one could hope: Cumberbatch immediately offered an intelligent and sincere apology; organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card acknowledged his apology; the news was dominated by discussions which reiterated the historical reasons behind the need for appropriate terminology; and Cumberbatch’s original point – the issue of racial inequality within the world of film – again came to the fore.

“I think it's just part of the silly news cycle that we all feed off and it will go away like chip paper as it does,” added Oyelowo. Yet there’s always someone who wants to push a point to its furthest extreme, and this time it’s the Daily Mail who opted to run a feature about a slave plantation in Barbados that was owned by Cumberbatch’s ancestors – a drastically unfair comparison given that his family left the island 150 years ago.

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The Big Film: Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s rich filmography is enough of a calling card in its own right to make Inherent Vice a must-see. That appeal is further bolstered by a cast rammed with consistently brilliant performers. It’s just as well, for an outline of the film’s early 1970s plot doesn’t offer much to help sell it.

Joaquin Phoenix leads as perpetually stoned private detective ‘Doc’, who appears to have borrowed Neil Young’s sideburns. His big dilemma is the return of his ex, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who needs his help with a sprawling dilemma that involves her new beau, an underworld-connected property developer; his wife; her lover; and a plot which involves a devious plan to send the Mr. Big of the construction world to an insane asylum. And then we have the myriad motivations of the rest of the characters – a hard-edged cop, a scheming lawyer and a coke-sniffin’ dentist, to name but three.

It’s a charmingly hazy tapestry of a mystery mixed with dopey physical humour. Or at least it is until the layers of characterisation and confusion finally outstay their welcome. It’s fine for the viewer to fully experience the Doc’s spinning bewilderment, but it’s a big ask to be thrown into that swirling incoherence for almost 150 minutes.

Regardless, there’s lots to enjoy, albeit on sporadic basis: for example, an audacious scene in which the Doc’s consciousness is lost between a brothel and a crime scene, as well as a glorious detour into what visually appears to be a blend between a cult HQ and a high-end dental practice. Anderson’s visual aesthetic is also stunning when it steps aside from its sun-baked environment, notably with an intensely intimate sex scene and a painterly reconstruction of The Last Supper.

Inherent Vice, therefore, is simultaneously a joyride and a drag, a mesh of contradictions that feel like they’re shaped to be exactly that. It’s almost stronger in retrospect. Shaken by Charles Manson and Vietnam, this depiction of Los Angeles as its hippy dream passes in favour of a new era of commerciality offers plenty of substance to reflect upon.

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Also Out: Kingsman: The Secret Service

After the success of Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman’s latest film is another adaptation of a Mark Millar graphic novel. This time it’s an odd couple buddy movie as suave upper-class secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and troubled young hoodie Eggsy (Taron Egerton) battle to save the world from the clutches of an evil tech genius, played with malevolent glee by Samuel L. Jackson.

Such a synopsis sounds like a game of spy cliché bingo, but this is a film that often moves in unexpected ways. A stylish, post-modern ultra-violent movie that both pays homage to and subverts the usual Bond narrative tropes, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a rare beast: a film that blends elements of the kind of military experiments depicted in The Men Who Stare At Goats together with a plotline which compiles most of the in-vogue conspiracy theories and a knowing sense of self-awareness.

Even in the world it inhibits, however, it’s a film that leans towards rather depressing stereotypes. Eggsy is a cartoonish representation of underclass, more Goldie Lookin Chain than Nil By Mouth, while his boorish fellow recruits in spy university are pretty much The Riot Club minus any moral quandaries. Similarly, a late scene which features a Swedish princess would probably have got the chop from an episode of Men Behaving Badly for being too sexually outmoded.

That aside, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a little like a turbo-charged Brit blockbuster companion to last year’s The Guest. It certainly isn’t going to exercise any grey matter, but it’s slick, bold and gloriously demented entertainment.

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Also Out: Son Of A Gun

Perfectly shot, poor plot: a little rhyme for what could have been an outstanding debut for Julius Avery. Within the competitive prison break genre it is essential to have a twist, a movement in a direction no one could have foresaw. Avery misses a trick here with a linear but somehow slightly disjointed Aussie crime drama, following the successes and failures of thieves as they attempt to become disgustingly rich.

Son Of A Gun begins as 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites) enters prison for the first time, only to find that to be protected from the violence that surrounds him comes at a price. Hardened and infamous, although we never find out why, thief Brendan (Ewan McGregor) uses the boy’s naivety to his advantage, embroiling him in a prison break, followed by a drug-lord driven gold heist. 

He becomes a sacrificial pawn in a metaphorical game of chess, an idea that in review could have framed the film.

There’s little traction in the development of either character, even when JR (un)surprisingly falls for the forbidden woman. More importantly there’s just no empathy, an essential part of all prison movies as the ‘are they good or are they bad?’ question lingers.

The film sums itself up perfectly: “Things are never as you imagine.” Sadly true for newbie Avery this time round. Words: Anna Pintus

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Shorts

The cast of the upcoming Ghostbusters was confirmed as an all-female affair with Bridesmaids duo Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy doing their best not to cross streams with Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live fame. Dan Aykroyd, star and co-writer of the original 1984 movie, has called the casting “magnificent”

American Sniper still has its crosshairs focused on the top of last weekend’s UK box office with Ex Machina representing its closest new challenger at #5. Despite a critical mauling and questions about the status of Johnny Depp’s career, Mortdecai (pictured) followed at #7. Despite critical indifference and most people being baffled by the casting of Marky Mark as a professor of literature, The Gambler weaselled in at #8. Despite critical adoration and endless hype for Oscar Isaac and his lovely collection of coats, A Most Violent Year stands somewhat sheepishly down at #17.

Finally, documentary auteur Alex Gibney met with some unsurprising opposition following initial Sundance reviews for his Scientology investigation, Going Clear. Variety argues that it’s “a great film about the dangers of blind faith”.

 

 

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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