Bill And Ted Face The Music (cinemas, PG)
Verdict: Uninspiring rehash
The Devil All The Time (Netflix, 18)
Verdict: Dark but gripping
The Christopher Nolan blockbuster Tenet has not, it seems, quite achieved what the cinema industry hoped by tempting multitudes back to the multiplexes. But since it needs two or three viewings to work out what the heck is going on, if not 19 or 20, there’s still a chance of a strong secondary market.
This week, however, the industry is putting its weight behind Bill & Ted Face The Music, which isn’t a film you’d want to see more than once. We last saw Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, released in the summer of 1991.
That’s so long ago that Frank Capra, master of screwball comedy, was still alive, while Jason Donovan’s version of Any Dream Will Do was riding high in the charts. This film could be subtitled Any Plot Will Do.
We last saw Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, released in the summer of 1991.
Like the first two in a series that began in 1989 with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s a goofball comedy; screwball’s less sophisticated cousin. But just like those of us who once bought into the madcap adventures of their heroically slow-witted, rock’n’rolling alter egos, Winter and Reeves are 30 years older now. Do we really want to see Bill and Ted as middle-aged nincompoops? Yes and no, but mostly no.
The writers are the same as before, Chris Matheson and ed Solomon, and they have unashamedly tried to recycle the best of their own material. A muddled plot whisks us repeatedly backwards and forwards in time — to the company of Jimi hendrix in London in 1967, to the young Louis Armstrong in 1922 New Orleans, to Mozart in 1782 Vienna, to our own two protagonists in jail in 2030.
Double act: We first saw Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) in 1989 with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Yet the two years that cast the biggest shadow over this film are 1989 and 1991. Ironically, time-travel comedies don’t always travel well through time. It’s one reason why director Robert Zemeckis keeps declining offers to look ahead to the past by revisiting Back To The Future.
Here, the director is Dean Parisot, whose 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest is considered a cult classic. he does his best to wring laughs out of Bill and Ted’s new challenge: to write a song in 77 minutes and 25 seconds that will satisfy The Great Leader (holland Taylor), save humanity and stop the ‘collapse of reality’. unfortunately, the intellectually challenged pair are now also professional failures, their band Wyld Stallyns forced to play to sparse audiences at $2 taco nights.
Winter and Reeves are 30 years older now and in the film their new challenge is to write a song in 77 minutes and 25 seconds that will satisfy The Great Leader (Holland Taylor)
Their marriages to medieval princesses Joanna (Jayma Mays) and elizabeth (erinn hayes) are in trouble, too, yielding a mildly funny scene with a relationship counsellor played by Jillian Bell. The duo’s biggest asset turns out to be their grown-up daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), both chips off the old blockheads.
There are a few genuine chuckles in all this, and fans of the first two films may relish the nostalgia trip, but at the Press screening on Tuesday I sensed a lot of stony faces under the obligatory masks.
If staying at home without having to wear a mask is still your idea of a good night at the movies, then I heartily recommend a new Netflix film, The Devil All The Time. But it needs a strong constitution. It’s a dark, gritty, violent chronicle of unhappy lives over 20 years from the end of World War II, set in the buckle of the Bible Belt, between hick towns in rural West Virginia and neighbouring Ohio. One of them is the deliciously named Knockemstiff, which I was thrilled to find actually exists.
The Devil All The Time is a dark, gritty, violent chronicle of unhappy lives over 20 years from the end of World War II, set in the buckle of the Bible Belt, between hick towns in rural West Virginia and neighbouring Ohio
Imagine The Waltons rewritten by Quentin Tarantino and you’ll have an idea of the kind of film this is. It begins with a young soldier, Willard (Bill Skarsgard) returning from the war, falling in love with a pretty waitress, marrying her and proudly fathering a little boy. But before long, as characters and storylines gradually intersect, it plunges into a moral abyss of religious fanaticism, sexual depravity and murder.
It's based on a 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who grew up in Knockemstiff. He also supplies a commentary — an inspired touch, even if it evokes the folksy voiceovers in those Sunday-afternoon made-for-TV Disney films of blessed memory, usually about doughty sheepdogs. This is anything but. The story gives us not one fire-and-brimstone preacher but two, one mad, the other dissolute, and both played by Brits, Harry Melling and Robert Pattinson.
The quirky film is based on a 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who grew up in Knockemstiff
Indeed, it’s a quirk of this film, wonderfully directed and co-written by Antonio Campos, that such a pure slab of Americana features so many non-American actors: not just Pattinson, Melling and Skarsgaard, but also Tom Holland, Douglas Hodge, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen and Jason Clarke.
Oddly, U.S. actors are in a minority in this film, although they do include, as one half of a couple of serial killers, Riley Keough, whose late grandfather sang about this kind of country and these kind of people. Mind you, Elvis Presley, for he it was, liked to find their more wholesome side.
Luckily rocks is a real diamond in the rough...
Rocks (cinemas, 12)
Verdict: Warm, sad and funny
Sometimes a film catches you by surprise. Aware it was made on a shoestring budget with a cast of near-unknowns, I was unprepared for how remarkably good Rocks is. Directed by Sarah Gavron, whose last film was the much more mainstream Suffragette (2015), it’s a gripping, beautifully acted slice of-life story set in inner-city London.
The focus is on the titular Rocks, the nickname for a 15-year-old girl (the terrific Bukky Bakray) who must juggle school with caring for her much younger brother emmanuel (a scene-stealing turn by D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) once their mother, who has mental health problems, has left the family’s tower block flat to ‘clear my head’. A plea for help to the children’s grandmother in Nigeria yields nothing.
The story unfolds episodically as even the resourceful, streetwise Rocks is sorely tested, putting her relationship with her best friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali) under great strain. Yet there is a huge, enveloping warmth to this film, as well as sadness and, on occasion, real hilarity.
With its background theme of social inequality and hardship, it will inevitably be compared to the work of Ken Loach, but Loach’s films can be terribly preachy and this never is. I really admired it.