19 November 2012-11-19

Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta

Out in the UK This Week

 

Arthur Christmas (Sony, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)

There have been some terrible British animations in the past few years. Anyone remember Valiant? But this comic adventure that re-imagines the Christmas delivery round as something that’s grown into a gigantic FedEx-like operation, with Santa Claus now almost as redundant as his sleigh, is not one of them. Brilliantly structured, it’s witty, gutsy, insightful and entirely entertaining. And its depiction of Santa’s family as a bunch of characters who don’t actually enjoy spending Christmas together gives it universal appeal, as does its “cake and eat it” suggestion that the corporatisation of everything we hold dear is going to happen, but we don’t have to like it. And what about the fact that Santa’s real name is Malcolm? A new Christmas classic, surely.

Arthur Christmas – at Amazon

 

 

Two Years at Sea (Soda, cert E, DVD)

It’s got Instagram looks, this monochrome documentary shot on 16mm film and with a heavy influence of the Hungarian miserabilist Béla Tarr. It artfully artlessly follows a hippie/hermit as he serenely goes about his hardscrabble life off the grid. Clouds scud by, lambs bleat, the wind sighs – for 20 minutes ambient sound is all you get. Is this man a sad hero? A heroic outsider? A sage? A loonie? Maybe a bit of all of them. I watched it on my laptop, with my phone charging off the USB port and my email syncing away in the background. It felt like a holiday from all that. If you’re also a stressed-out, always-on screen-jockey this might be for you too.

Two Years at Sea – at Amazon

 

 

Big Boys Gone Bananas (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)

A tough sell but a worthwhile one. Because this is a documentary about a documentary, and why its maker, Fredrik Gertten, wasn’t allowed to show it. The original doc was called Bananas? At Any Cost? and was about the way that Dole, the biggest fruit company in the world, treats its workers, particularly those who work in out of the way parts of the world. More than that it’s about the might of a large company, how its lawyers can leverage the power of a national judicial system (the US’s in this case) to do most of its work for it. And on top of that it’s about how the world’s media more often than not fall in line. So it’s not about bananas at all – it’s about life in a democracy and how our governments are failing us.

Big Boys Gone Bananas – at Amazon

 

 

A Simple Life (Arrow, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ann Hui’s drama is about a Chinese “auntie” who, after 60 years working for a family, has a stroke and ends up in a shitty old folks home. There she negotiates her last few months, succoured by visits from the little boy – now a movie producer (it’s Andy Lau) – she raised. A Simple Life slaloms around the clichés about old age, first painting a picture of the institution where death is a daily occurrence but where it’s the constant round of small indignities that really make life unbearable. Then, slowly, gently, it builds into a lovely, tender drama with a performance of real nuance, Deanie Yip doing it all with looks so tiny they’re almost internalised.

 A Simple Life – at Amazon

 

 

The Lorax (Universal, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)

You’d think the fabulousness and wacky colour of Dr Seuss would make him a natural fit for Hollywood. Not so. Look at those Grinch movies. And The Cat in the Hat. The Lorax continues along the same route, a “meh” adaptation, animated in Despicable Me style, of the Seuss story about a world without trees. The average eight-year-old who is desperately worried about the planet might enjoy it, and might even appreciate the political message about big corporations and planetary despoliation (but will they get that “too big to fail” sign pinned on the wall of the Once-ler, the guy who makes thneeds out of trees until all the trees are gone?) Danny DeVito is one of the few members of the big-name voice cast who was worth the effort of hiring. Zac Efron, Taylor Swift? Could be anybody. But hey, money needs to be given to the moneyed (as Dr Seuss never said). As for John Powell’s songs, they’re stab-yourself-in-the-ears terrible.

The Lorax – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2012

 

 

9 November 2012-11-09

Matthew McConaughey and Juno Temple in Killer Joe

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

 

Killer Joe (Entertainment One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

French Connection/Exorcist director William Friedkin returns to form and hands a decent role to Matthew McConaughey, who plays a dead-eyed contract killer menacing a family who thought they’d hired him to kill the materfamilias for insurance gain. As with The Exorcist, Friedkin gives us an awful lot of set-up before he gets the nasty stuff out, by which time we’re emotionally invested and feeling every jab. Juno Temple stands out as the bra-less jailbait who catches McC’s eye, but it’s very hard to get really involved in this family they’re so scarily dim. Unless the whole thing is meant to be a hellishly black comedy and not a thriller at all. At least that’s the way I started reading it.

Killer Joe – at Amazon

 

Katy Perry: Part of Me (Paramount, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Lollipops aloft for a canny film that’s partly a spangly concert doc, partly a rags to riches biography but mostly a revealing essay on the personal cost of life on the road for the queen of cartoon pop. Co-queen, sorry, along with Nicki Minaj. Perry come across as a very bright, sweet, enthusiastic, hard-working trouper – I suppose that was why directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz were hired, after all. But there are telltale moments, orchestrated or not, that shed light on the “life in the spotlight” phenomenon. As this film was being made Perry’s relationship with Russell Brand collapsed. We see her crying, slumped, then strapping on a smile to go on stage and sing “The One That Got Away”. Tears in eyes time.

Katy Perry: Part of Me – at Amazon

 

King of Devil’s Island (Arrow, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

The Reform School Drama, Norwegian style, with Stellan Skarsgård lending international box-office clout and then standing back to let a cast of unknowns do their work. The Magdalene Sisters meets Cool Hand Luke might be a slightly unhelpful way of describing what you’re getting, and as with both those film there’s a very well defined sense of place (ie it looks bloody cold). A tough, gripping tale of hardship with well drawn relationships, plenty of narrative tug and a climax that is worth hanging on for.

King of Devil’s Island – at Amazon

 

Men in Black 3 (Sony, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Will Smith goes back to an old franchise (favours being called in by the studio?) and takes Josh Brolin back with him in a story that might be loosely described as “how Tommy Lee Jones became a Man in Black”. Brolin is standing in for Jones, you see, and in the few scenes with Jones in at the beginning, you’re glad of the fact, so waxy does the great man look. As for the film itself, it is a cheapjack cash-in that takes half an hour to get going, at which point it does manage to hit a few comic targets. And it has to be admitted that Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones impression is amusing. Best thing of all is Jemaine Clement, eye-opening as a camp badass villain.

Men in Black 3 – at Amazon

 

Swerve (High Fliers, cert 15, DVD)

Sometimes it’s the low-budget films that give off the best flavour. Take this cheapie set out in the Australian desert, where an innocent man, a bad blonde, a suitcase full of hooky loot and a psychotic cop are cooked into something almost resembling a Hitchcock thriller. I’m not going to pretend that Swerve is genius stuff. It’s not. But it’s got an almost-there quality – the good stuff is very good, it’s got atmosphere to spare and the dangerous mule-kick of pheromones too. Let’s mark director Craig Lahiff down as a man to watch.

Swerve – at Amazon

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

How would you behave if you knew the world was about to end? In this drama playing like a riff on Lars Von Trier’s superior Melancholia we see the reaction of a suburban couple who hear the announcement while out in the car. She immediately gets out of the car and runs away. From him. He (it’s Steve Carell) goes to work. He sells insurance. Hollow laugh. The opening scenes of a drama that’s actually about a couple thrown together by this impending apocalypse – Carell going on to meet dizzy babe Keira Knightley. It starts brilliantly as Strangelove-ian satire, then handbrake-turns into unconvincing romance. We can see what’s in it for him; but what’s she getting out of it?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2012

 

 

12 November 2012-11-12

Jeremy Irons in Margin Call

Out in the UK This Week

 

Margin Call (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

JC Chandor’s debut, and what a film, is about a Lehman Brothers’ (ish) bank that hits the skids. It’s the definitive Hollywood entertainment about the financial crash, a cool, glossy, edge-of-seat procedural that spends a night in the company of two low-level bank employees (Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley) as a gigantic accounting error comes to light. Whereupon the problem is batted further and further up the heirarchy, until it reaches the top (a particularly dry and corrupt Jeremy Irons). The performances are in the ionosphere – Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Paul Bettany all working hard to justify the huge salaries (of the actors, not the bankers). And if the message – that moving money around electronically is not as noble as making, you know, stuff – is hammered home a bit too forcefully, I for one was prepared to give a first-timer a pass. Which brings us to – how did Chandor get the cast? And what’s he going to do next?

Margin Call – at Amazon

 

The Giants (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)

Beautifully shot and acted, this gem of the deadly pastoral genre is a River’s Edge-flavoured tale following three teenage lads through a long summer of thievery, joyriding and cannabis-farming among the inbreds of rural Belgium. The plot is full of genuine novelty and in Paul Bartel, oldest of the kids oscillating madly between child and almost-adult, it has a star of the future.

The Giants – at Amazon

 

Undefeated (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)

“Young men of character, discipline and commitment end up winning in life and they end up winning in football.” The words of Memphis coach Bill Courtney, who tries to turn a nowheresville side into winners – and more importantly, men – in the Hoop Dreams-inflected documentary which won an Oscar earlier this year. Whether you like American football or not, you will like this film. It paints the picture of America that the world is still mad for – a country full of people with heart, who speak their mind, who are respectful and god-fearing rather than god-bothering. As for the film – it’s brilliant.

Undefeated – at Amazon

 

Cosmopolis (Entertainment One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Just when you thought existential drama was dead, back comes David Cronenberg with a supercool, absurdist adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel. which follows a Keanu-like billionaire (Robert Pattinson) on a long limo ride round a city falling apart, besieged by anti-globalisation protesters. Pattinson might or might not be much of an actor but he probably does know a thing or two about being found entirely attractive by women, so having sex with a succession of hot babes is probably no stretch for him. The sex also helps fill in the gaps between the existentialist non-sequitur dialogue and punctuates a film that is meant to be dull, blank, horizonless. It’s a hard film to get into, but it’s strangely rewarding once you do. Camus in a limo.

Cosmopolis – at Amazon

 

Trouble in Paradise (Eureka, cert PG, DVD)

Now restored and a defining example of “the Lubitsch touch”, the 1932 romantic comedy that helped found a Hollywood genre is a curiously timely tale of a grifter preying on the super-rich in the aftermath of the 1929 market crash. It’s considered Lubitsch’s best film and, considering it’s now 80 years old, it stands up remarkably well. The side players include Edward Everett Norton and C Aubrey Smith and they are proof of a tradition that continues to this day – that the support players are often far more interesting than the stars.

Trouble in Paradise – at Amazon

 

56 Up (Network, cert E, DVD)

Surely one of the most important TV programmes ever made, this unique documentary series has been checking in on its subjects every seven years since they were seven-year-olds in 1964. It proves the old Jesuit dictum – “give me a child for his first seven years and I will give you the man” – memorably in the case of the wide-eyed Paul Kligerman, who in 1964 asked “what does university mean?” He didn’t go. Michael Apted has been involved since its inception – he was a 23-year-old researcher on the first one and has directed all the others since, fitting his other job as a successful international movie director (Coal Miner’s Daughter and The World Is Not Enough, to name but two) round about. The participants are now 56 and Apsted finds himself asking them the question “Are you scared of getting old?”

56 Up – at Amazon

 

Friends with Kids (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A woman with ticking-timebomb ovaries has a kid with her best male friend. Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott play the convenience couple in this toxic rom-com sold on all the posters under the falsest of pretences. Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd all feature heavily in the publicity but are barely in the film. The fact that Hamm is Westfeldt’s real life partner suggests Westfeldt called in a few favours when it came to casting. Ironically Hamm’s favour doesn’t do her any – the film is overbalanced by these bigger names. But not as much as it is by the sour chemistry between Westfeldt and Scott. And to think she was part-responsible for Kissing Jessica Stein – the refreshing cult oddball romance from 2001.

Friends with Kids – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2012