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La Soledad is Venezuelan director Jorge Thielen Armand feature film debut. Having screened at Venice International Film Festival, Miami Film Festival (Audience Award) and Atlanta Film Festival (Special Jury Prize); as well as winning the Best Opera Prima and Best Sound Design at Festival del Cine Venezolano, this little movie following the lives of a very humble family trying to keep their house amidst the tragic situation of the country, sets the way for a quite promising film career.

La Soledad is the name of the old mansion Jose and his family live in. His grandma Rosita used to be the maid of the long gone wealthy family that once inhabited the house and knows all the legends regarding the place; as the morocota gold coins hidden treasure somewhere in the nowadays derelict garden. But Jose has no time for legends for he has a little daughter to take care of, a problematic brother bringing his shady friends around and a wife who is getting tired of her job and is considering moving out to Colombia. To top it off, the actual owners of the house want to demolish it to sell the land.

Jose keeps neglecting his daughter’s insistence about a beach trip they were supposed to have while facing endless queues in the town hall to ask for social benefits and empty supermarkets that serve as a subtle and never politically driven view of current Venezuela.

On that matter, there are brief and well placed lines of dialogue that give a darker insight such as one of the friends of Jose’s brother proposal to join him in his express kidnappings as-it’s the only thing that gives money nowadays. In addition, there are other not so elegantly showed but equally striking sequences that underline that point as the overcrowded hospital the main character takes his grandma to, unsuccessfully, get the medicines she needs.

That last scene of the movie shows Jose taking his wife and daughter to the beach and enjoying an isolate moment of peace while floating face up in the sea as the camera zooms out to, finally, fade to black.

La Soledad fits in the social realism genre frame but it is also half documentary as many of the actors play themselves in the film. It is sober, striking and beautiful. The movie delivers the message intended through its tone and lack of action and even though it gets a bit slow from time to time or some would argue the resolution is anything but resolute, the film stays faithful to its nature and portrays magnificently the poverty-stricken situation of Venezuela nowadays.

New Sam Huntingon comedy “Second Nature”, directed and co-written by Michael Cross, will get a wide release this September through Nicholas Gyeney’s Mirror Images LTD.

The film, also produced by Gyeney – a filmmaker himself whose Beta Test received a wide theatrical release in 2016 – teams Huntington (Superman Returns, Sully) with Interstellar’s Collette Wolfe.   Amanda (Wolfe) uses a magic mirror to reverse the gender roles in her small town, she gains the upper hand on her womanizing opponent, Bret (Hungtinton). As each experiences life in the other’s shoes, they must decide which reality they prefer before they’re stuck in the flipped world forever.

Second Nature, which premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival, marks the feature debut of Michael Cross.  Theatrically, the film is scheduled to open in theaters from September 8 (beginning with Ark Lodge Cinemas, Seattle). It will also play at the Catalina Film Festival (Sep 27-October 1) and Ellensburg Film Festival (October 6-8).  Second Nature will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Blu-ray and DVD on September 19.

We had chat with Michael Cross.

What was the pitch for the movie?

When mayoral candidate Amanda (Collette Wolfe – “Interstellar,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) uses a magic mirror to reverse the gender roles in her small town, she gains the upper hand on her womanizing opponent, Bret (Sam Huntington – “Superman Returns, “Sully”). As each experiences life in the other’s shoes, they must decide which reality they prefer before they’re stuck in the flipped world forever.

And if the trailer is anything to go by it would seem to be both a funny movie and a dig at politics?

Those were two goals for sure, but the initial idea stemmed from taking a new look at gender bias. My writing team literally had no idea how much more relevant Second Nature would be today than when we started writing it over 8 years ago. In fact the first draft of the script wasn’t political at all. It was about 4 years ago that we rewrote the entire story to make it more affordable to produce on a small budget, which is where the small town setting came in. The mayoral special election seemed like a natural fit, providing a lot of opportunities to explore gender behavior in politics and society.

How hard is it to ground a comedy in reality – especially one like this?

That was one of the toughest challenges for this film. In order for the premise to work, the story had to live within the bounds of traditional gender stereotypes to some extent. Second Nature is rooted in truth, which is where most of the humor comes from. It’s really the movie I’ve always wanted to see. During the screenwriting process, it was clear how important it was that the script should be written and vetted by a team of women and men in order to achieve the balance of what it might be like to live in a “woman’s world.”

And would you call it a straight-up ha ha comedy or is there elements of drama and romance in here too?

I think there’s a good balance of funny scenes, dramatic and romantic moments. Comedy is so subjective, but in general I think it’s a mistake to try to make every scene funny. If you’re presenting nonstop jokes, it’s an opportunity missed, preventing your audience the chance to feel the weight of your story.

Is there another movie you’d say your movie is reminiscent of?

You might say Second Nature is in the lines of Bridesmaids meets Freaky Friday.

What about the story – any influences there? Maybe something you read about in the newspaper?

I’ve always been fascinated by gender behavior, as well as gender balance in politics. We are molded from birth and nurtured to behave a certain way, which greatly affects who we are as individuals and as a larger society. So flipping the entire world, so that women behave like men and vice versa, is a way of looking at ourselves more clearly. Through the comedy we are also able to understand better what it’s like walking in someone else’s shoes.

As a man, I have observed the gender bias that all of the women I know are constantly encountering. Despite significant progress toward equality in our modern society, there is still a persistent bias against women, and apathy toward the change that is still needed. This sparked a desire in me to create a story that not only acknowledges, but explores this issue. I asked, “What if roles were reversed – wouldn’t the world be better?”

Second_Nature_Poster

Second Nature poster

How much did you go and learn about body swapping on Wikipedia and on Reddit before scripting?

Well, none actually – Second Nature isn’t really a ‘body swapping’ movie. That’s what makes Second Nature so unique – it flips the entire world around the two main characters. A mirror grants Amanda’s wish that women and men could switch places for a change. For me, grandma’s old magic mirror was the perfect portal of entry into the “flipped” world. Because on the “other side” of the mirror, everything is the same except backwards. And in a sense, the mirror lets us see our ourselves in our own world more clearly.

What’s coming up for you?

I’m staying busy releasing Second Nature along with writing my next one. Can’t wait to share my next story with the world…

http://secondnaturemovie.com

Detroit is undoubtedly one of the most expected releases of the year. Not only because of the prolific and talented hand of its director: Katrhyn Bigelow (Academy Award winner for The Hurt Locker) but also because, by luck or misfortune, it coincides with a very specific moment of social and racial turmoil in the western world and especially the U.S: from Trump’s election to the Black Lives Matter movement or the recent events at Charlottesville, Virginia).

Detroit is set under the frame of the city’s riots in 1967 and it focuses on The Algiers Motel Incident: when three young black men were killed during an interrogation by DPD officers claiming that there was a sniper amidst the hotel guests. After a people’s trial (on which the movie doesn’t really focus) following the initial absolution of the three policemen involved, those were taken off the streets and the force with no further consequences (aside from a ridiculous fine to one of the affected families).

The film’s opening is superb- animating a Jacob Lawrence’s painting series on the Great Migration- and it sets the tone and the mood to come. Shortly after, the event that lit the spark of the riots is broadly portrayed and the characters that will carry the story introduced. From that moment on, the story follows the Algiers Motel Incident from its very beginning to its tragic ending and it resolves with a quick and not particularly thorough sequence of the trials mentioned, to end up with captions over black screen explaining the outcome of the lives of the real people involved.

The movie succeeds in delivering a point; even though it trembles in several moments to eventually deliver the intended message. That risk is caused by the somehow sloppy ending which, never seems to arrive. But little by little the audience surely feels the rage, fear and impotence of witnessing the outrageous performance of the Detroit police force. The feeling of utter injustice and lack of belief in the judicial system travels from the screen to the spectators’ guts unavoidably.

The main problem, in the humble opinion of the writer of this article, is precisely the destination of this message: the guts. To be completely honest, it feels like the director is looking for a visceral reaction from the audience, which she gets, rather than trying to dissection the roots of the problem. That is unarguably disappointing considering what she is capable of- especially in The Hurt Locker and the emotional depth of its characters’ arcs.

The three cops guilty of the massacre are shown as bad apples and not as part of a broader system of policing. Which unfortunately enough resonates with the current situation mentioned at the beginning of this text: the bad apple explanations it’s a major risk, to put it gently, considering how many times in how many different parts of the country (or the world) the exact same thing has happened. I.e. people being killed by the infrastructure supposed to protect them for racial, class and economic circumstances that have created a climate of tension, fear and mutual distrust. Detroit is clearly a work of fiction and it should be seen as such (partly); but accepting that, let’s at least point out how misleading is the title (as it could be called Algiers and it would be way more fair to the actual events taking place in the movie) and its introduction.

The way the writer of this article sees it: it feels more like real and freaking scary Funny Games during the Detroit riots than an actual (fictionalised) depiction of the 1967 riots in “The Motor Town”.

Logan Lucky ticks all the requirements for a heist/caper movie on paper but just didn’t work on screen.

Unlucky for Steven Soderbergh he just couldn’t recreate the magic of Ocean’s 11 which may be down to poor casting in part. Whatever avant garde thing he was trying to do just didn’t work. Daniel Craig was pretty decent though.

Logan Lucky centres on Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), a former high school quarterback who failed to make it big working dead beat jobs in Boone County. Along with his brother Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) they decide to steal the takings from the biggest NASCAR race weekend in North Carolina but in order to do it they need Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) only problem is he’s in jail. So now the brothers have set themselves the impossible task of breaking him out of jail and pulling of this heist. Will they succeed and also break the Logan curse?

This is a solid heist movie but it isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. This is mostly down to Channing Tatum being the weakest link. Adam Driver is memorable as is the child actress who plays Channing’s daughter in the film and Daniel Craig is quite simply at his comic best. It also seems full of caricatures and feels so Southern it hurts y’all. There was a little nod to Little Miss Sunshine and Farrah Mackenzie (Sadie Logan) who sings John Denver’s country roads take me home is a touching moment in a frankly average film. I don’t quite understand why Soderbergh would attempt to recreate the Ocean’s films. Clearly, Mr Soderbergh has never heard the old adage “never look back, never go back”!

Wait for this on DVD or if you have one of those monthly cinema cards then why not although it will feel like a long two hours. This is just not as great as it could have been and it is so deeply frustrating given what a trailblazer Steven Soderbergh has been over the past 20 years.

Logan Lucky opens in cinemas across the UK tomorrow, 25 August.

Old school comedian Les Dawson used to have a popular routine where he’d attempt to play the piano and fail to hilarious effect when he was actually a hugely gifted musician. As well as showing our age, that story highlights the precedent that to appear casually terrible at something you actually have to be at the top of your game. This is something Bill Nighy demonstrates with aplomb in Their Finest, available on digital platforms from August 14th and on Blu-ray and DVD from August 21st.

Nighy is one of the country’s beloved character actors and whether he’s breaking hearts in Love Actually, swashing his buckle in Pirates of the Caribbean or tracking down rogue spies in Page Eight, Nighy has always been one of our most dextrous and treasured performers. In Their Finest Nighy plays washed-up ham Ambrose Hilliard. Disgruntled that his days as a matinee idol have faded and forced to take roles he thinks are beneath him in government propaganda films, Hilliard is the comic core around which the romantic drama unfolds – and it turns out he’s as brilliant at being terrible as he is at being brilliant.

In honour of Nighy and his ham actor alter ego, let’s raise a glass to him and to other amazing actors hamming it up on screen in the name of performance:

Bill Nighy in Their Finest (2016)

As Ambrose Hilliard, Nighy meets the indignity of playing a terrible actor brilliantly, serving thick chunks of largely talent-free ham in the scenes where he acts like he’s acting, while balancing that with the tragic weight of reality in more private moments as he both fights against and simultaneously accepts the hand the war has dealt his career as an actor.

Scenes opposite Henry Goodman and Helen McRory (who individually and to varying degrees of success serve as Hilliard’s manager) allow him to let rip and deliver some peak Nighy, but he’s just as good when failing to realise he’s being manipulated by Gemma Arterton’s canny Katrin.

Ralph Fiennes in Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The latest film from one of modern cinemas true visionaries, Wes Anderson, is probably his most hilarious, which is in no doubt thanks the extraordinarily OTT performance from Ralph Fiennes as fugitive concierge extraordinaire Monsieur Gustave H. Whilst spending the majority of the film on the run with his apprentice lobby boy and partner in crime Zero (Tony Revolori), Fiennes’ seldom seen comedy chops are called upon to glorious effect.

Despite the film’s tightly wound aesthetic, Fiennes manages to bring fresh eccentricity to the screen with perfect precision; every snappy comeback, camp eyebrow raise and nonchalant “darling” to his less-animated counterparts is executed to fit in the Anderson machine like clockwork. It seems even good ol’ Wes knows that a bit of ham every now and then is a wonderful thing!

Kenneth Branagh in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Branagh has rarely looked like he’s having as much fun as he does playing the fatuous, vain and morally bankrupt Gilderoy Lockhart in the second Harry Potter film. The fact that he’s an actor of renowned nuance and subtlety (see Wallander, Valkyrie, Dunkirk for proof) doesn’t mean he can’t have fun and, as Lockhart, he’s a testament to the idea that it’s blondes who have the most fun.

Laying on the cheese with a trowel, Branagh is all toothy grin and over-coiffed hair until it comes to the crunch and the mask slips – this is one vain fool who will turn on a sixpence to protect his own hide, something Harry and friends nearly find out to their cost.

Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Granted, you’d be hard pressed to find a performance from Pacino where there aren’t tooth marks in the scenery but in The Devil’s Advocate and, arguably, Scent of a Woman the scenery chewing is pretty much off the chart. The Devil’s Advocate, though, lets him get away with it a little more than other films have done quite simply because, well, he’s Satan and who’s in a position to say how over the top he might actually be?

The histrionics from Pacino also offer an animated counterpoint to Keanu Reeves’ dead-eyed stare throughout the film, looking for all the world as though he can’t for the life of him figure out how he’s ended up playing a hotshot lawyer in the Devil’s employ.

Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element (1997)

Luc Besson is clearly a fan of a) Gary Oldman and b) a joyous lack of subtlety and these twin facts are never more eloquently displayed than in the timelessly brilliant space opera, The Fifth Element. Until the early 1990s, Oldman had been best known for complex, edgy roles in the likes of Prick Up Your Ears and Sid & Nancy, and there’s been no shortage of them since then either, but 1994 saw him partner with Besson for the first time and go full tilt crazy playing the overblown, brilliantly watchable villain of the piece in Leon, before repeating the trick to glorious effect as Zorg opposite Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. A masterclass in carefully prepared ham if ever there was one!

THEIR FINEST IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM AUGUST 14TH AND ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM AUGUST 21ST COURTESY OF LIONSGATE HOME ENTERTAINMENT UK

As an undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin, Atomic Blonde is an investigation into the death of an agent, but also an investigation into loyalty.

Shifting loyalties, a double agent in the mix, and East-Berlin excess are the sort of contents that make my mouth water. Couple that with fantastic and inventive action sequences including a ‘single-shot’ fight scene I should have been leaving the cinema ready and willing to buy another ticket. Unfortunately, Atomic Blonde doesn’t live up to its potential. Ultimately dull and shallow, Atomic Blonde has no personality.

With so much distrust and uncertainty, the inter-personal relationships between the characters are so devoid character that you’re left not caring who the double agent is and who’s not. You’re so aware of the distrust and the ‘life of spy’ that you can’t become invested in anyone. Charlize Theron does her best to rescue what is a wooden script but fails. Not even James MacAvoy’s usual brilliance can relieve Atomic Blonde from an obsession of style over substance.

The sequences are truly beautiful, the stylisation incredible and the fight scenes refreshingly realistic. To see two fighters so exhausted and hurt during a fight that they can barely move was refreshingly interesting and probably the most exciting part of the film. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t make up for films failings. Theron’s character Lorraine Broughton who began as an intriguing enigma became so complex there’s almost no way to understand her motivation, and for me, that’s where Atomic Blonde lost it.

The transition from graphic novel to film is always difficult. From a format where style is everything to one where stories need to develop quickly has been difficult for Atomic Blonde. It’s not terrible, and fans of fight scenes alone would love it, but it wasn’t great either.

It’s been a long summer right? The kids aren’t back at school yet and you’ve probably run out of ideas by now. Never fear – Virgin TV to the rescue!

Today, Virgin Media launches Virgin TV Kids – the most comprehensive entertainment app, created exclusively for some of its youngest customers. The Virgin TV Kids app is fun and easy-to-use, whilst creating a safe environment for children to be engaged and entertained.

The app has been designed specifically for the TV-IPs (Tiny Very Important People) in the home – for pre and early primary school children (3-7 years old) – and brings together more than 2000 episodes of on demand kids TV, along with reading books and interactive games. The app has been developed to be a safe space, free from advertising and other commercial influences such as no in-app purchases.

Virgin TV

Virgin TV in bed!

At launch the key features include:

· Many of the best kids TV shows, including Bob The Builder, Mike The Knight, In The Night Garden, Thomas & Friends, Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Masha and Bear, Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, Monkey See, Monkey Doo, Angelina Ballerina and more. With new TV shows and boxsets available each month.

· Some of the most-loved books, which adults and older siblings can read with little ones or early readers can read for themselves – including Monsters Love Underpants, Princess Evie’s Ponies, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet and Barry The Fish With Fingers and No-Bot, the Robot with No Bottom.

· Lots of exciting new games to test children’s skills in logic, memory and problem solving – including Playful Kitty, Bubble Gems, Kids Tangram and Doctor Teeth.

· A bright, fun and easy-to-use interface, which can be personalised for each child with individual profiles of tailored characters, nicknames and backgrounds.

· TV shows can be downloaded to allow kids to watch them offline, such as on a plane or car journey.

· Kids love to watch the same programmes on repeat so to make this easy the app has a button which, when pressed, will play the same show five times over.

· Parental settings, which allow grown-ups to restrict streaming to a WiFi connection only, to keep kids in the app and prevent straying into the internet, notifies upon mobile data usage, manages downloads and devices and see usage history of games, books and TV shows.

David Bouchier, Chief Entertainment Officer at Virgin Media, said: “Our Virgin TV Kids app is a safe and fun space designed exclusively for pre-schoolers, Virgin TV’s youngest customers. What could be a better parental antidote for the holidays!”

The Virgin TV Kids app is available from today : for all Virgin TV customers on the Fun and Full House bundles to download for free from the Apple App Store, and Google Play.

Based on a series of novels written by ex- Special Boat Services commando Duncan Falconer, the titular John Stratton is an SBS operator who must track down an international terrorist cell.

Director Simon West goes searching for a more grounded take on Bond, Bourne and Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt and delivers a kinetic, globe-trotting action-thriller that plays more like BBC’s Spooks by way of ITV’s Ultimate Force. The noughties televisual element is unsurprising considering the low budget nature of the movie and for the most part, the filmmakers do their best to develop tension, intrigue and believable threat.

Dominic Cooper once again proves that he has the chutzpah to be a notable lead. His physicality in the role is commendable as he performed many of his own stunts and does a grand job of traversing cliché-ridden dialogue. We also get a great turn from Derek Jacobi (is there any other kind?) who could’ve certainly done with more screen time as the surrogate father figure for Stratton, and Thomas Kretschmann’s villain proving once again that he’d make a compelling antagonist for Bond, Bourne or Hunt. He’s an actor who understands the concept of “less is more” and we’re thankfully spared the bad guy monologues and shouty moments you often see in films of this ilk.

The rest of the cast are a mixed bag. Gemma Chan manages to engage with a paper-thin character, Tom Felton does his best Tom Felton, and Connie Nielsen keeps a straight face through some of the choppiest moments in the godawful screenplay. The plot beats are very much “by the numbers” and it’s the script suffers from a kitchen sink approach to clichéd, groan-worthy dialogue. But it’s likely that you won’t be watching this movie for profound political statement or stirring character arcs.

Stratton works best when the pace is rapid and the action, packed. From car chases in Rome, speeding boats across the Thames (sort of) and an explosive conclusion, there’s enough expedient choreography to keep the film chipping along at a merry pace. Nathaniel Méchaly’s score is reminiscent of his work on the Taken franchise but with a hint of David Arnold’s Bond orchestrations. Unfortunately, viewers with any knowledge of London may find the chase through the city in the final reel unintentionally humorous as the locations covered make for some geographical feats of cinematic fancy.

If you’ve seen any 21st Century action thrillers in the past few years, then there will likely be no surprises in Stratton. However, there’s potential in the protagonist and I hope Simon West, Dominic Cooper and co. get to tackle a second outing with the character to push beyond the pedestrian and break new territory.

Stratton launches September 1st.

Following on from the similar docu-drama aesthetic of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow reconstructs the events that led to the murder of three black men by police officers during the Detroit riots of 1967.

Developed using testimonies and witness accounts, screenwriter Mark Boal reconstructs the terrifying and fateful encounter in a hyper-real manner that draws focus not only on the hardship black Americans suffered against a predominantly white police force, but also underlining an environment where the living standards and financial disparity carve a trench in the racial divide.

Bigelow and Boal, along with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editor William Goldenberg recreate a horrific intensity akin to the bombast of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk but transposed to the claustrophobic confines of The Algiers Motel. The gut-wrenching barbarism of the violence inflicted, the egregious abuse of power by the police officers involved and the sense of fear for the victims is almost overwhelming. You are immersed in the brutality and it is a profound and sickening thing.

Each of the cast has complete ownership within their role and to see such dynamism within a fraught and impactful story helps command verisimilitude. The disparity between John Boyega’s morally aligned night watchman and the fascistic cops portrayed by Will Poulter, Ben O’Toole and Jack Reynor, compounds the powerlessness of the victims once torture and interrogation are inflicted upon them.

Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore provide a tangible link between the atrocities and the beating heart of Detroit, Michigan circa 1967, Motown. From our introduction to The Dramatics backstage at a music hall we see a young band of Motown performers full of a thirst for fame and glory. The duo who attend The Algiers, escaping the chaos of the riots are the closest the audience has to lead performers in this story and by the conclusion we see a shift in mind-set and life’s focus that provides the only true closure to the onscreen events.

Sadly, the court case and conclusion that follows on from the pressure and horror of the murders at the motel are not constructed with the same level of scrutiny or pacing. Not only is the outcome of the film a let-down but it also meanders in a way we’ve grown unaccustomed to in the tightly knit first two acts that have preceded it. This is a gripping drama that loses focus in the final reel and doesn’t offer a satisfying conclusion, but perhaps that’s the point. As a work of cinema, it horrifies, infuriates and informs. There is no full stop at the end of Bigelow’s film and perhaps that’s a not-so subtle message, that, this ugly chapter in American history has yet to reach an end.

Detroit opens this Friday.