Movie reviews: Miles Ahead, Bastille Day, Friend Request

Miles Ahead 4/5
Bastille Day 3/5
Friend Request 2/5

 

Miles Ahead (15A), a fictionalised biopic of Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), opens in 1980 with the jazz great holed up in his New York apartment and struggling to find a new kind of musical expression. 

Into his solitary life comes David Brill (Ewan McGregor), a hack journalist sniffing around the rumour that Davis has recorded a new session, and who is hoping to write the story of Miles Davis’s comeback. 

When the session’s only tape recording is stolen by sleazy producer Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg), Miles goes to war to retrieve his precious music. 

Don Cheadle writes, directs, produces and stars in Miles Ahead, an intensely personal project that takes a jazzy, freeform approach to biopic narrative, not least in the way Cheadle simply invents huge chunks of the story. 

He creates an absorbing persona for the jazz pioneer, portraying him as an abrasive, self-absorbed, monomaniacal womaniser who is never less than compelling in his uncompromising pursuit of musical innovation. 

Even more interesting, however, is Cheadle’s writing and directing, as he creates a story that blends flashbacks to Davis’s ultra-cool heyday into scenes of the present day, which braid themselves around the central storyline to allow us to appreciate the extent of Davis’s multi-faceted character, each scene bleeding into the next courtesy of an Altman-esque use of overlapping sound as Cheadle’s direction is informed by the modal jazz at the heart of Davis’s own career. 

McGregor provides strong comic support as the hapless but sincere journalist, but Miles Ahead is very much Don Cheadle’s baby, and he delivers a film that pays tribute not only to Miles Davis’s achievements, but also to the means by which Davis played his part in revolutionising popular music.

Bastille Day (15A) opens with Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) planning to leave a bomb in the offices of a far-right French political party, only for American pickpocket Michael (Richard Madden) to accidentally steal the package. 

When the bomb explodes in the wrong location, CIA surveillance expert Sean Briar (Idris Elba) is called in to investigate, and discovers a terrorist plot targeting the Bastille Day celebrations. 

Hampered by bureaucratic in-fighting between the French and American secret services, and with only 36 hours to track down the terrorists, Briar decides to take matters into his own hands. 

Written by Andrew Baldwin and directed by James Watkins, Bastille Day is an old-fashioned thriller that resurrects that most beloved trope of the genre, the solitary hero who breaks the rules in order to get the job done. 

Coarse, brusque and brutally efficient, Sean Briar is entirely improbable as a CIA specialist, but Idris Elba carries off the role with aplomb, growling, punching and shooting his way through what feels like an extended audition for the James Bond role. 

The pace is relentless and chock-a-block with twists and reversals of fortune, although the frenetic pace doesn’t fully disguise the clichés and plot-holes (at one point Briar goes roaring through Paris in a bullet-riddled gold Mercedes without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow, let alone an alarm). 

It’s a solid, unexceptional thriller underpinned by a vague sense of unease, given all the tragic events that have occurred in that city recently, at watching our heroes charge through Paris in pursuit of terrorists in the name of entertainment.

Friend Request (16s) begins in sombre fashion, as college student Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) learns that Marina (Liesl Ahlers) has committed suicide and posted a video of her death online. 

We then flash back two weeks, to when Laura accepted a friend request from Marina, despite the fact that Marina has no other friends, and her profile is filled with bizarre pictures and videos alluding to witchcraft, death and sacrifice. 

When Marina then becomes suffocatingly persistent, Laura unfriends her — but the story really starts to pick up pace after Marina dies, and Laura discovers that Marina is apparently stalking her from beyond the grave. 

Simon Verhoeven’s horror offers a fascinating set-up, blending modern technology and communications with the ancient fear of allowing the darkness of the other, the auslander, into the community (Marina’s hand-drawn pictures are full of Gothic imagery that bring to mind the unsettling proto-folktales of Charles Perrault, and Laura’s college friends warn her off associating with the oddball Marina, who is made up to appear ghostly and otherworldly). 

The story quickly begins to abandon its internal logic, however, what was initially plausible and potentially terrifying (and timely, given its context of extreme on-line bullying) becomes ludicrous and tiresome as Verhoeven resorts to the bump-and-scream clichés of every third-rate horror flick you’ve ever seen.


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