Zoolander 2

Really, really, ridiculously disappointing.

The Assassin

There are martial arts movies and there are martial arts movies. The Assassin isn't either.

Batman v Superman

A bold, mature exploration of myths and epics - followed by a two-hour mess.

https://i-flicks.net/components/com_gk2_photoslide/images/thumbm/760163zoolander__top.jpg https://i-flicks.net/components/com_gk2_photoslide/images/thumbm/572370The_Assassin.jpg https://i-flicks.net/components/com_gk2_photoslide/images/thumbm/111152batman_v_superman_still__1_.jpg

Star Ratings

Well good


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Film review: Lucy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:20

Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Certificate: 15

What is life? How does it evolve? How many bad guys can Scarlett Johansson beat up? Lucy asks all the important questions - and a ton of others to boot.

Film review: The Expendables 3 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 15 August 2014 11:37

"Why were you in prison?" asks one of The Expendables after they bust Wesley Snipes' Expendable out of a maximum security fort. "Tax evasion," he quips. This is as edgy as Sly Stallone's sequel gets.

In a normal film, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. In a two-hour, $90 million blockbuster designed to wow with brutal violence, it's something of a surprise.

Surprises aren't something The Expendables do: the word isn't in the team's collective vocabulary of loud grunts, forced bon mots and constant declarations of friendship. When you go to the cinema to watch Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger et al. blow things up, you're meant to know exactly what you're going to get: Carnage. Catchphrases. Cheese. And lots of it.

After two movies, then, you might expect it to get a little stale.

The first film delivered on its promise, drenching the screen in 18-rated blood despite an overly serious tone. The Expendables 2 scaled down the gore for a 15 certificate but ramped up the self-aware humour to introduce a new sense of fun - right down to the fact that its villain was called, erm, Vilain. With Con Air director Simon West out of the cockpit for The Expendables 3, though, that light touch has been replaced once again with clunky gravity. And with the violence also scaled down to a 12A certificate, the result is an action comedy that doesn't have enough of either.

"Get to the choppa!" yells Arnie, looking increasingly like an ageing dog wheeled out to shake paws with people on special occasions. He says the word another couple of times, regardless of context, just to make sure he earns his paycheck. Stallone feels equally tired, barking with such a butch, gravelly voice that you can't understand what he's saying - although he's still a darn sight more agile than the other veterans. And so they all get ditched by the star in favour of younger, newer models. There's the computer hacker one (Victor Ortiz), the female one (Ronda Rousey) and the Hey He's Like A Young Sylvester Stallone one (Kellan Lutz). Unlike their senior counterparts, though, none of them are recognisable from modern action cinema, which makes them as bland as the mature Expendables are two-dimensional. (Where are Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth? Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer?)

The newcomers to the fray who do stand out are Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis as a grouchy CIA agent - and proving, once again, that he could be the new Leslie Nielsen - and Mel Gibson, who plays our unhinged bad guy, an ex-Expendable against whom Sly has a grudge.

Teaming up, falling out, teaming up again but with more people; the narrative is as predictable as it gets. But of course, that shouldn't be an issue. This is an Expendables film. You should be having too much fun to think about plot. With the set pieces cut down to their bare, non-bloody minimum, though, the thrill of OTT combat is sorely missing, along with bullets and blood. In the first movie, a man got blown in half by a shotgun. Here, men fall over after other men wave guns in their general direction - presumably because they've fallen asleep from boredom. Even Lutz's impressive motorbike stunts fail to liven up the climactic sequence in an abandoned apartment block, a fantastically-designed set with towering, wasted potential.

Thank goodness, then, for Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is just as much an OAP as the rest, but he steals the show with his sprightly antics, jumping, climbing and running almost as quickly as speaks - which is very, very fast. He may be playing Puss in Boots minus the hat, but every joke he makes hits hard, a fact that only emphasises the lack of laughs (and hard-hitting) elsewhere.

Banderas proves that what this series needs isn't necessarily a brand new generation of heroes, but a smart script with a sense of humour that doesn't just rely on Arnie saying the word "choppa". The Expendables 3 can't decide what it wants, though: fresh blood or old tricks; new viewers or existing fans. The result is a mediocre, formulaic sequel with too many characters and not enough clout for them to ever make an impact. It appears to offer even more of the same, but serves up far smaller portions. (In the case of Jason Statham, almost no portions at all.)

Gibson gives good evils, but it's telling that even his addition to the ensemble is free of any controversy or interest. Blunted for a younger audience, rebooted without being rebooted, The Expendables 3 is a dull, boring spectacle that's as entertaining as tax evasion - and that is the franchise's first big surprise.

Film review: God's Pocket Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 08 August 2014 17:47
Director: John Slattery
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins
Certificate: 15

"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket." That's our introduction to John Slattery's first film as director, a dark drama with even darker bits of comedy. The tone is set from the off with a funeral, which is promptly disrupted by a punch-up. Your reaction to that wallop will likely determine your reaction to the whole film.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last performances, stars as Mickey, a loser slob of a husband who steals meat so he can chop it up for sale. It's a textbook reminder of what makes Hoffman such a powerful screen presence; neglectful, self-centred and usually drunk, Mickey is a flawed fuck-up of a person but feels absolutely real, a quality that somehow earns our sympathy.

His step-son, Leon (the ever-pale Caleb Landry Jones), doesn't.

Racially abusing co-workers while threatening people with a flick knife, it's no surprise that someone bumps him off - and even less of a surprise that nobody cares. Nobody, that is, except for his mother, Jeanie (Hendricks). And so she asks Mickey's friend, Arthur (John Turturro), to investigate.

Things, naturally, go from bad to worse. Dead bodies, one-eyed goons and gambling debts all pour out onto the streets of the fictional community from the shadowy cracks in which they were festering; boils on the already ugly plague of humanity.

If it sounds like a confused plot, that's because it is: based on Peter Dexter's novel, Alex Metcalf's screenplay is part silly, part sad, part strange crime thriller, part marital breakdown. The result is a slippery tone that Slattery does not always control: he shoots everything with a grim, grubby deadpan look that treats humour and high drama the same. It's all black and bleak, which leaves you unsure whether to laugh or cry at one man punching another at a funeral - or people moving corpses in the rain or elderly women brandishing firearms.

And yet the uneven nature feels oddly fitting for this fable of family, society and psychotic florists. Like God's Pocket, this is a patchwork of stories knitted by people. Christina Hendricks communicates the weight of her happiness just by looking forlornly out of a window, Eddie Marsan's sympathetic funeral director is delightfully manipulative, while Turturro's natural bond with Hoffman lets the loose narrative slide easily from gear to another. Through it all, one thing remains constant: the voiceover of local reporter Richard Shellburn. Richard Jenkins' journalist completes the accomplished ensemble, carting around a drinking problem to go with his receding hairline, as much a revered veteran as he is a sleazy pervert.

"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket," he declares with the hackneyed air of yesterday's fish and chip wrappings, at once both romantic and wrecked. Perhaps that's the movie's problem: Slattery's blue-collar neighbourhood is so close-knit that we never quite feel a part of it. We watch this fascinating parade of open wounds go past, held together with the band-aid of humanity, but end up stumbling away down the street, resigned to indifference.

Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 22:16




FIlm review: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 07:21
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Cast: 12A

"A new era has begun. The age of the Transformers is over," declares Kelsey Grammar as Harold Attinger at the start of Transformers: Age of Extinction. He plays a CIA head intent on hunting down all the giant robots and killing them - bad news for Optimus and chums, who have all gone into hiding, until Mark Wahlberg's inventor, Cade Yeager (yes, that's his actual name), uncovers an old truck at an abandoned cinema.

The owner of the theatre cheekily laments to Cade that movies are all just "sequels and remakes" these days - but in a week where Christopher Nolan mourns the turning of "film" into "content", Michael Bay's blockbuster champions the unique value possessed by the big screen. Namely, the value of big robots blowing up big buildings while making big noises. It may seem like a sequel offering more of the same, but for the first time, Transformers 4 serves up something different: actual people.

"You gotta have faith, Prime. Maybe not in who we are, but who we can be," Cade tells Optimus in his garage. As a professional tinkerer, he reminds the Autobot leader of the importance of looking for the "treasure among the junk". It's an approach that suits the overall film.

Amid the carnage, Ehren Kruger's script swaps out Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox's couple for a far different dynamic: Cade and his daughter, Tessa (Peltz). That father-child relationship steers Age of Extinction away from the minefield of problems that has beset the franchise and into some surprisingly effective new territory.

Tessa soon introduces Cade to her boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). "His name is Shane," she explains. "He drives." It's either an admirably economical piece of character exposition or a sign that he has no character at all, but Cade's disapproving dad act is, for once, a recognisable emotion in this sea of metallic mayhem.

After the self-aware opening gag, you get the sense that this is an intentional step forward from the writer and director. Even Peltz's role as token female feels less lecherous with Bay avoiding any slow-motion shots of her leaning over motorbikes, Megan Fox-style - although Kruger's attempt to justify the 17-year-old's relationship with an older boy feels uncomfortably forced. At any rate, Tessa certainly fares better than Sophia Myles' supporting character, who is completely shafted in the favour of macho, mechanical combat.

And what combat it is. Bay continues his quest to go bigger and, well, bigger - and largely succeeds. It's helped by the fact that since his adoption of 3-D and IMAX cameras, he's had to limit his shots to longer, slower takes that show the action clearly. But his childish ambition to smash toys together is still evident: this time, there are Transformers who break down into giant pixels before reassembling mid-flight. It's a stunning feat of CGI - even if these robots still feel the incomprehensible need to disguise themselves as a Camaro, a Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse and a Lamborghini Aventador.

That continued striving for scale, inevitably, proves to be Transformers' downfall. In the past, this testosterone-led thinking has meant not enough plot to fill the overlong runtime. Now, the problem is that there's too much. In addition to Cade and his daughter helping the Autobots from being hunted down by Attinger, we're soon introduced to his villainous partner, Lockdown - another robot, who carts around a prison ship of arrested junk - and a tech company trying to build their own Transformers using a metal called "Transformium" (a name so dumb that, to its credit, the script jokes about people making it up).

As another evil robot, Galvatron, hijacks that process, though, Age of Extinction suffers from the main symptom of sequelitis: too many bad guys. Showdowns happen halfway through the movie, only for villains to walk away for no reason, before returning again for another final act punch-up. The result is a bloated runtime of 165 minutes.

It's a shame because when the set pieces do occur, humans are woven cleverly into the chaos; final blows are delivered by men (and women) as much as machines. They may be puny but people actually matter. Chief of them all is Stanley Tucci, who is clearly having fun as Steve Jobs-like entrepreneur Joshua Joyce. "I wanted transcendent!" he whines hammily, as his designs topple around him.

The robots, surprisingly, are the dodgy members of the cast, from (toned down) racial stereotypes to John Goodman playing a Transformer effectively disguised as John Goodman. As Prime, Peter Cullen's voice may be as deep as ever, but Optimus' motivations are wobbly to say the least. "I swore I would never harm humans," he booms, "but if I catch the man responsible, I will kill him." Later, his attempt to persuade other robots to let him lead team literally descends into him shouting "Let me lead you!" At least over-bearing male man Cade, despite his unexplained ability to operate alien weaponry, is consistent.

Does that mean Age of Extinction counts as a success? In many ways, yes. Some will, after the last three films, expect rubbish - another sequel or remake to add to the pile. But despite Bay's horrible penchant for blatant product placement, there is something that works here. Like or lump the commercialised music video production, full of Malick-esque magic hour sunsets and soft rock pumped over slow-mo sequences, Transformers 4 has already become the highest-grossing film of all time in China; modern cinema may be dying, but - as Robbie Collin points out in The Telegraph - this juggernaut of sheer spectacle is bringing the crowds in.

Remove the pointless 45-minute Lockdown subplot and those crowds could be seeing a (relatively) tightly-packed summer thriller. In its current, ungainly form, Age of Extinction has many shortcomings, but in their hulking shadow lie glimmers of achievement; bits of treasure beneath the trash. Transformers: Age of Extinction is, whisper it, good. For a Transformers movie.

As Bay paves the way for another two sequels, Attinger's opening speech takes on another meaning: the age of Transformers is far from over, but with identifiable humans on the screen, you wonder whether, in his own, small way, Michael Bay might just have begun a new era after all.

Film review: Oculus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 14 June 2014 18:14
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Certificate: 15

Oculus is a film about an evil mirror. No, wait. Don't go away. It's better than it sounds.

Film review: NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 09 June 2014 11:50

"I'll have her, but I will not keep her long."

What a strange film NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage is. First, we have cinemas broadcasting live theatrical plays. Then, we have cinemas broadcasting recorded theatrical plays. Now, we have cinemas showing a behind-the-scenes documentary about a play: Sam Mendes' Richard III. If you're already switching off, this isn't for you. If you saw the play, on the other hand, this is an interesting accompaniment.

The movie follows Kevin Spacey et al. as they perform the final part of the Bridge Project, a scheme that formed a company of British and American actors and then toured 12 countries, from Doha to Beijing and Istanbul. If you're going to film the making of a play, this is the one to choose.

Director Jeremy Whelehan hangs out on the dozen different sets and records the preparations, performances and post-show celebrations, attempting to convey the camaraderie of the group, as well as offer insight into the production. He certainly succeeds at the first half.

Front and centre is, of course, our Kev. "The audience give you a feeling back - it's like a game of tennis," he says in one of many asides to the camera. (After Richard III and House of Cards, you can imagine Spacey delivering asides constantly in real life, offering wry comments on his breakfast cereal to the cat.) The rest of the actors echo his sentiment; it's surprising just how much the show seems to evolve as it moves location. It might be the same cast and director, but every few weeks, a new host of stagehands has to learn the ins and outs of the text, geared specifically towards each venue. More importantly, the people in the stalls change too.

One production in Epidaurus, Greece, sees the show previously designed for London's Old Vic stripped down for an ancient amphitheatre. The cast talk about the stunning candlelit stage in hushed reverence, frequently crossing the border into gushing thesp territory. "The gods came to us," smiles Kevin. If you can stomach a strong dose of luvvy with your loquaciousness, there is still something here to enjoy.

Gemma Jones, who plays Richard's mum, Queen Margaret, reveals herself as the joker of the pack, flashing everyone and hitting on the young men in the room. Chuk Iwuji as Richard's right hand man, meanwhile, explains that his habit of holding his hand up to his mouth is to hide the amount of corpsing he does - something Kevin takes advantage of every night.

For all the apparent team spirit, though, there's a hint of Ocean's 12 about the proceedings. Who wants to sit and watch other people have fun, especially when it involves them sailing down the Amalfi coast in Kevin's private boat? "You just get on and smile," confesses one bewildered co-star to the camera, but it's hard to shake that feeling of an exclusive clique.

Later, though, as they drive through the Qatari desert and Kevin throws himself head-first down a sand dune, you glimpse the trust that exists between the group; a side of Spacey we've never seen.

Mendes offers an interesting take on directing the A-lister, comparing Richard III to their first collaboration on American Beauty in 1999. Sam points out that Kevin is very aware of himself and always performing. "My job is to remove that awareness, to make him vulnerable."

Spacey certainly seems to be open. "I don't go into a corner and become a character," he tells us candidly. "I'm a firm believer that I bring what I feel that day to the role, if I'm angry or feeling lonely or blue… I get all that stuff fucking out there."

Whelehan lurks in the wings during the production itself, capturing the cast running between curtains and doors. NOW is at its best in these moments of chaos and craft. We see Spacey dance and limber up before limping out onto the stage. Is he doing that for Jeremy's camera, or is this him at his most vulnerable?

The play itself culminated with a bravura moment that sees Kevin hoisted upside down on a chain, swinging back and forth like a meaty pendulum. For those in the theatre, it was a breath-taking stunt. Disappointingly, though, NOW doesn't go into detail on how this was set up - although it does document the moment on camera for those who weren't there.

That's the biggest triumph and downfall of the whole thing. For audiences familiar with the production, NOW is a curious access-all-areas extra. For audiences who didn't get a ticket, the lack of a sister recording of the show leaves this feeling incomplete and self-congratulatory – the idea of marketing this to those who have never witnessed Spacey on stage, then, is a baffling decision. Aye, there’s the rub. That's the nature of theatre, one that the documentary constantly returns to: it's a game of tennis and needs the right audience to make it work. As the people on the other side of the net change, so does the show. “It can only exist then,” laments Spacey, with a hint of The Usual Suspects, “and then it's gone.”

In a world where cinemas now regularly broadcast plays, though, NOW In the Wings on a World Stage is a unique oddity. At its worst, it's a smug travelogue. At its best, it's a flawed attempt to capture the transient nature of the stage on screen; a fascinating special feature for a DVD that will never exist.

NOW In the Wings on a World Stage is showing tonight at Picturehouse cinemas around the UK with a satellite Q&A from Kevin Spacey. For more information, click here.

Film review: Benny & Jolene Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 06 June 2014 12:24
Director: Jamie Adams Cast: Craig Roberts, Charlotte Ritchie, Rosamund Hanson, Dolly Wells Certificate: 15

"I know he wants me. But I'm too hot. He's floppy."

Those are the lyrics to Hard/Soft, an attempt by Jolene (Ritchie) to write a racy pop song. She's in a folk band with Benny (Roberts). He doesn't want to sing racy pop songs. But as the duo arrive at the cusp of fame, a team of people try to push them towards mainstream success. Needless to say, none of them work together very well.

Films about musicians are having something of a moment right now, from the sincere (Inside Llewyn Davis) to the sweet (We Are the Best!) and the silly (Frank). But where all of these musician films worked, Benny & Jolene doesn't quite click: they simply don't convince as, well, musicians.

Writer/director Jamie Adams' comedy is largely based on improvisation, which gives his lead couple ample screen time to spar. Charlotte Ritchie is great as the earnest, confused singer, while Craig Roberts is suitably gloomy as the intense, artistic one, who does everything else. But do you believe they're a band? Not really.

An early sequence on a TV breakfast show is a laugh-out-loud introduction to the pair, as they stumble over such simple questions such as what instruments they play - and then mime badly to a recording. Unfortunately, that note of insincerity accompanies the whole piece.

"He's like a hot brother," Jolene says of Benny, and that uncomfortable chemistry is partly the problem. The two performers lack a romantic spark, more believable as siblings than will-they-won't-they lovers.

Adams fills his 90 minutes with a host of equally bumbling people, from the mildly amusing - a PR person played cluelessly by Rosamund Hanson - to the annoyingly unfunny - Dolly Wells as Jolene's overbearing mum. As the ensemble go on tour, the claustrophobic tension of the cramped caravan is captured very well, but not always intentionally; whether it is a weakness of the editing or the script, the band's loosely filmed journey becomes repetitive and stretched out, like a chord held on for too long.

The band members are talented, but they don't quite gel. There are times when everyone falls into beautiful comedic harmony - a rivalry between simultaenous sex scenes is finely tuned - but more often than not, the laughter track seems to be missing. And without a central relationship to keep you fully engaged, those silent bars gradually become more noticeable. Benny & Jolene are great on their own. As a band, they miss a beat.

Film review: Grace of Monaco Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 11:53
Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella
Certificate: 12A

Grace of Monaco follows Grace Kelly as she moves from her glittering Hollywood fairytale life to another, equally glittering, fairytale: the life of Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco. It's a story that's ripe with potential - but places most of the emphasis on ripe.

"You're a long way from Hollywood now, Grace," explains her priest (Frank Langella). "You're in Monaco." "Yes," she sighs, then frowns and gazes into the distance. "I know I'm in... Monaco."

Director Olivier Dahan shoots the film with hands heavier than a pregnant rhinoceros, delivering every story beat as a clunking boom. And so we are treated to endless close-ups of Grace, pretty shots of Monaco and close-ups of Grace again, just in case the title didn't make it clear who or where she is. All the while, Nicole Kidman sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance.

You might think, then, that her husband's struggle against France to retain Monaco's independence would provide a relief to all that sighing, frowning and gazing. But Prince Rainier III's political battle is presented with an equally weighty tone, despite it bearing hardly any resemblance to historical fact. "You can see the whole of Monaco from here," Tim Roth's husband tells Langella's man of the cloth as they drive through the hills out of town. "Yes, I know," comes the bored reply. Then they sigh, frown and gaze into the distance.

It's a shame to see such talent drowned in so much cheese. The twitchy Tim Roth flits between smiling confidently for the cameras and looking concerned, while Nicole Kidman swiftly perfects the pristine image and walk of a monarch. Both are presented with the most pristine of costume designs. But the director's unsubtle approach turns the cast into human-shaped Dairylea Dunkers, repeatedly dipped into a tub of pungent fromage.

"Everything I do or say is wrong," says Grace, before fulfilling her royal duties of frowning, sighing and gazing into the distance. It's a turn that at worst recalls Naomi Watts in Diana and at best brings to mind Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn - particularly when Grace sneaks off for 15 minutes to have elocution lessons with a flamboyant Count Fernando D'Aillieres. He is played, inevitably, by Sir Derek Jacobi, who minces on every possible level, like a camp lasagne.

In the movie's most laughable sequence, the Count holds up cue cards (presumably stored on the premises for just such occasions) listing emotions for Grace to project. Fear! Anger! Serenity! Then he proceeds to recite history like a text book, while Grace sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance. A card with "Boring" is strangely missing from his collection.

While everyone spells out exactly what is on their mind, the only member of the ensemble who offers any hint of fun is Parker Posey, whose assistant Madge is caught up in an international conspiracy. A late night rendezvous, played with an excited touch of humour, gives us a glimpse of what Grace in Monaco could have been. But rather than go down the path of a political thriller or straight biopic, Arash Amel's melodramatic (yet mostly made-up) script stumbles, ungracefully, under its unsubtle load. A cameo from Alfred Hitchcock (impersonated by Roger Ashton-Griffiths even less convincingly than Anthony Hopkins in Hitchock) only makes things worse.

"You came here to play the greatest role of your life," Langella tells the screen icon halfway through, ending any pretence of subtext. It's a neat parallel the first time someone draws it but after the 50th time, it all becomes rather tired. And, like Kidman and Grace, you soon find yourself sighing, frowning and gazing into the distance. Oof.

Film review: Beyond the Edge Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 25 May 2014 07:24
Directed by Leanne Pooley
Cast: Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight, Joshua Rutter
Certificate: PG

An inspiring achievement. An awesome spectacle. There's no denying that the climbing of Everest in 1953 was an impressive feat. The same could be said of Leanne Pooley's documentary, which meticulously recreates the mountain ascent to stunning effect.

Film review: Fading Gigolo Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 23 May 2014 16:47
Director: John Turturro
Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Sofía Vergara
Certificate: 15

"This is the end of an era, my friend, let me tell you."

That's Woody Allen at the start of Fading Gigolo. It certainly seemed like that was the case for Woody the actor - until 2012's To Rome with Love, when he appeared in front of the camera for the first time in six years. Now, he's back on-screen again as Murray, a man who persuades his younger friend Fioravante (Turturro) to become a male prostitute.

Fioravante agrees. Why? Is it the money? Woody's ageing charm? The prospect of a threesome with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara? The fact that John Turturro wrote the film and is also directing might have something to do with it.

A guy making a film about himself having sex with gorgeous Hollywood stars? Much like Turturro's nervous first-timer, Fading Gigolo doesn't make a great first impression. He's lucky, then, that he has a wingman to distract you: Allen clearly enjoys the chance to dish out one-liners again and it's hard not to say the same.

His fast-paced delivery is a familiar joy, even if not all of the jokes hit home, while the chance to see him not being a neurotic version of himself is a relief. Indeed, you could imagine a younger Allen pulling a Turturro - if you will - and coming up with a similar idea for a screenplay.

The surprise is that once it gets in the mood, Turturro's script does have some substance beneath the sheets: one encounter with a widowed doctor, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), ends with bodily fluids of a very different kind. Falling for Fioravante and he for her, their sad relationship soon attracts the attention of the Jewish local council - a showdown that feels more serious than silly and all the better for it.

Paradis and Turturro have good chemistry, as does Liev Schreiber, who plays a wannabe suitor for Avigal's heart. Together, the three develop a shallow premise into an engaging story with real emotional depth. So it's a shame that Turturro keeps cutting back to the bedroom; an uneven technique that leaves you unfulfilled between encounters.

While the amorous feelings may not last the whole night, though, sparks also fly when Turturro and Allen are on screen. The pair are out of a different movie, but they fit well together, an isolated pocket of bawdy humour away from the mature romantic drama. As we hop between the partners every few minutes, Fading Gigolo's polygamous structure keeps you aroused, if not completely satisfied. As Allen strolls off screen once again, you'll be be glad this particular affair is over, but the end of an era? That would be a mood-killer.

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