Ginger Snaps

Katharine Isabelle is Ginger, in Ginger Snaps

 

 

The last thing you want when it comes to scary films is something that’s had money lavished on it. You don’t want a famous director, and you certainly don’t want a big star, their exec-producer-status ensuring their make-up never gets smudged. You want something that looks cheap, smells cheap and is packed with cheap thrills. Something like Ginger Snaps is what you want. The plot is as straightforward as it is cheeky, taking the old werewolf myth and glossing it with the anxieties of a pretty young girl (played by Katharine Isabelle, 12 years before she’d turn up in the equally cult American Mary) as she is visited by her first period. Being a good looking girl, Ginger is a magnet for the local boys, and also in the picture is Ginger’s oh-so-proud mother, wanting to know every detail of her daughter’s haemoglobular progress into womanhood – a fact that’s almost as unwelcome to Ginger as the large hairy beast that she recently encountered out in the woods and which is now making her behave like a wild thing. And if that sounds sexual, it’s not me that started it. As cult horror goes, here’s one that’s corny, funny, squirm-inducing, low rent and pre-menstrually tense.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Ginger Snaps – at Amazon

 

 

4 March 2013-03-04

Silje Reinåmo in Thale

DVDs/Blu-rays out in the UK this week

 

 

Thale (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

This tense fantasy thriller about a Norwegian police clean-up team finding a mythical creature in a hidden cellar is this year’s Troll Hunter. Unexpected, refreshing, atmospheric and tightly plotted, it’s beautifully shot with vivid colours and unusual deep-focus photography, oh the wonders of digital. Even if you hate this sort of thing, it’s worth watching, and if you do hate this sort of thing you’ll be happy to hear it’s only a short 75 minutes or so. I found some comments from its director, Aleksander Nordaas, over on Pirate Bay underneath the magnet and torrent links to Thale, pointing out to the freebooters who are downloading his movie that he poured his heart, soul and all his money into this film. Not chiding them, not busting their balls, just asking nicely if they would also consider spending a bit of coin through the legal channels. How amazingly even-tempered he is, as well as talented. I hope some of them did – in spite of Thale’s unfathomably low IMDB rating, Nordaas really deserves to make another film.

Argo (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ben Affleck’s tense, polished and accomplished entertainment about a CIA man co-opting Tinseltown into the rescue of hostages in Iran is, most remarkably, based on a true story. There are many reasons why Hollywood gave it the Best Picture Oscar, not least because it proclaims a) the superiority of American democracy over Iranian ayatollahs b) it harks back to a time when the US was still undoubtedly number one c) it turns a defeat (the loss of Iran to the mullahs, the US’s man, the Shah, being kicked out) into a victory and d) it also harks back to when Hollywood was still number one. It’s a Clooney-esque film (he produced) – political, slick, wise, adult and entertaining, and director Affleck shows his mettle particularly as the tension racks up towards the end, wheeling out barriers to escape of every conceivable sort, until it became almost funny. Though for me the best bit was watching Alan Arkin, as one of those gimlet-eyed, cigar-chomping, old Hollywood producers shouting “Argo fuck yourself”. A line everyone is so pleased with they use it again and again. Great stuff.

The Sapphires (Entertainment One, cert PG, DVD)

The audience for this sort of film has probably dried up and blown away. Which is a pity because it’s got romance, music and emotion – it’s a toe-tapping feelgood musical, in other words, with a story arc that’s straight out of The Commitments, and featuring a charismatic performance by Chris O’Dowd, playing the shambling boozer in 1960s Australia who becomes the manager of an aborigine girl group, next stop Vietnam. It’s a true story too.

Battle of Warsaw (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

Poland’s first 3D movie is an intensely patriotic affair set in the aftermath of the First World War when the newly formed Soviet Union thought it would gobble up its next-door neighbour. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, a veteran who brings so much 1960s flavour that you’d swear Julie Christie was about to turn up, it’s a bloody, gutsy film with a familiar twin-track plot – a love story set against the backdrop of bloodshed – and has a pair of proper starry leads in Borys Szyc and Natasza Urbanska. And as soon as it starts we know it’s only a matter of time before she abandons her life as a Weimar-style cabaret singer, signs up as a nurse and heads for a battlefront finale where… no spoilers here. No one seems to particularly like this film, but I did – yes, it’s film-making almost as an exercise in semaphore, but it has touches of the brutal absurdity of The Good Soldier Schwejk and has a lot of time for the working of sheer dumb luck. The 3D? Well, it’s unnecessary but it’s only used in the battle scenes, which come at roughly ten minute intervals.

Hope Springs (Momentum, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

I doubt you’ve ever wanted to see Meryl Streep rubbing Tommy Lee Jones’s groin (over his trousers, please) or maybe I’m wrong and you also fantasise about Meryl pleasuring herself under the bed covers in the night. In which case this wholly uncool but undoubtedly well done comedy about an old married couple (no, not old old, this being Hollywood) putting the spark back into their marriage – thanks to relationship/sex counselling from a dialled-down Steve Carell – is for you. If not, there’s always Pornhub.

Gambit (Momentum, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Having made a lash-up of remaking The Ladykillers, the Coen brothers (they write but don’t direct) do similar injury to a 1960s caper movie that wasn’t very good first time round. Then it starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Now it stars Cameron Diaz, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and poor Tom Courtenay. It’s a relentlessly unfunny misconception about the selling of a phoney Monet painting which takes things that were just about still funny in the 1960s – the sound of a man’s trousers ripping, or a chambermaid burping – no, they weren’t funny then either, you’re right, and adds some Pink Panther-style physical comedy. Which would probably be OK if Firth weren’t doing it. But he’s no worse than Diaz’s Texas accent. In fact only Alan Rickman gets out alive. But then he always does. My gambit – avoid.

 

 

 © Steve Morrissey 2013

Torture Porn, a Beginner’s Guide

Hostel II: how bloody do you want it?

Hostel II’s blood, gore and torture is generating column inches faster than a skillsaw can rip through warm flesh, but some people still don’t know what torture porn is. This is for them…  

 

 

What is a splatter movie?

Films like Hostel: Part II slot into the category known variously – depending on whether you’re a fan or a critic – as Shock Exploitation, Splatter, Gorno (that’s gore + porno), Torture Porn or, at the comedy end, Splatstick. They’re catagorised by lots of flesh (usually female), lots of innards (generally animal), a gleeful approach to the subject by their directors (almost always male) and an unnatural fixation with domestic power tools (drills, blowtorches etc).

 

And the Splat Pack?

A broad brush definition: American thirtysomething males who came of cinematic age in the 1980s. The most notable Splat Packers are Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), Rob Zombie (House of a Thousand Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), the writing/directing duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell (Saw) and token Brit Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers). They’re heavily influenced by cult classics such as Maniac (1980), Cannibal Holocaust (1985) and Bad Taste (1987), but also have a boy/man relish for utter junk like Caligula Reincarnated As Hitler (1986). Artistically they worship at the shrine of foreign masters such as Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer) and they are currently presided over by Grindhouse auteurs and patron saints of schlock Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (remember the brains all over the back of the car in Pulp Fiction?).

 

Best examples?

For the best gore since the genre fell from grace during the 1980s ‘video nasty’ scare, you can’t beat the Splat Packers. See Cabin Fever (death by flesh-eating virus), Hostel (eye-gouging, drill in the head), Ichi The Killer (giant needle through the chin), Saw (disembowelment, head blown off) or Wolf Creek (crucifixion). But gore is increasingly turning up in mainstream offerings too – see Resident Evil or the recent Underworld: Evolution starring fragrant Kate Beckinsale. There’s even an art-house variant for those who like Torture Porn with a foreign accent – see Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-Moi or Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible, starring Monica Bellucci.

 

What next?

An embrace by the art and mainstream crowds means only one thing – the genre is running out of steam. It’s also hard to top a scene in which someone’s face is blowtorched, the scorched eyeball is yanked from its socket and the dangly bits cut (the first Hostel film). But diehards will doubtless turn out for Wan and Whannell’s Dead Silence, about a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy; Cell, Eli Roth’s stab at a Stephen King story; and new boy Todd Lincoln’s Hack/Slash, which doesn’t really need a plot summary, does it? All come Certficate 18 guaranteed.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2007 

25 February 2013-02-25

Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in On the Road

DVD/Blu-rays out in the UK this week

 

 

 

On the Road (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation urtext about real gone cats discovering sex, drugs and fun in 1940s USA looks never less than sensational in director Walter Salles’s translation to the screen. Riffing experimentally like the jazz on the soundtrack, it’s Grapes of Wrath-y in tone, nostalgic, perfectly capturing its protagonists’ assessment of themselves (like, way cool). In doing so it holds a mirror up to our own miserable times, mourning the loss of the energy that such self-centred optimism unleashes. Kristen Stewart, though a long way from the lead character, makes more of an impression than either Sam Riley (Kerouac) or Garrett Hedlund (as Neil Moriarty) in a film of surprising nuance and depth.

On the Road – at Amazon

 

 

Rust and Bone (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A whale trainer takes up with a shady bouncer after a life-changing accident at the aquarium. The bare plot description for this French drama really doesn’t do it justice. Watch the first 20 minutes and marvel at how much ground director/co-writer Jacques Audiard covers in a potentially super-melodramatic tearjerker/life-affirmer that never goes for easy emotion. Instead we get depth, subtlety and even a bit of class politics in the shape of the “it’s always the little guy that gets hurt” story arc. The performances, by Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard are similarly economical and as spot-on as the writing and direction.

Rust and Bone – at Amazon

 

 

Premium Rush (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is chased all over New York by snarling super bad guy Michael Shannon. Why? It doesn’t matter. All that does matter is the JG-L is playing a cycle courier riding a fixie, whereas Shannon is a cop in a car, and that there’s enough stuntorama, cool slo-mo camera trickery and chronological back-and-forth to make this something like a latterday Run Lola Run on a Bike. Enjoyable and exciting if not quite the groundbreaker it possibly thinks it is.

Premium Rush – at Amazon

 

 

Killing Them Softly (EV, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Like his good lady wife, Brad Pitt has developed a terrible habit of just standing around in films while the director of the week polishes his ego. Here he’s a supercool Mr Fixit, a relation of Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction maybe, sent in to sort out the mess a couple of bozos have made while turning over a local gambling operation run by Ray Liotta. Waving a hand vaguely towards the current financial crisis – the gaming tables are like the financial markets and need to stay in motion, we’re told a couple of times – the screenplay makes the comparison only to immediately drop it. It’s symptomatic of a film that’s all pose and little punch, though fans of Pitt will adore the way he’s endlessly fetishised, leaving the decent acting to others – Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins and a standout small role for James Gandolfini, effortlessly great as a sweaty lush.

Killing Them Softly – at Amazon

 

 

Frankenweenie (Disney, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Tim Burton’s best film since Edward Scissorhands is a beautifully animated gothic (surprise surprise) remake of a short he made in 1984 and is about a boy bringing his dead pet dog back to life. It’s in black and white and is full of cinematic homage to 1930s monster movies – angry mobs, windmills, lightning storms – though it works well even if you have no idea who Peter Lorre or Boris Karloff are. It’s for kids, really – perhaps all Burton’s films are and he has yet to realise it – fast-paced, fun and yet thoughtful enough to gently introduce the notion of death to the young mind. I did say it was gothic.

Frankenweenie – at Amazon

 

 

McCullin (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

This is a great documentary about the London lad who became the best war photographer, a term he hates, of his era. McCullin’s hard-hitting, beautifully shot, high-contrast stills are used as punctuation to archive news footage from the 1960s and 1970s – much of it too shocking to be shown back then. Then there’s Don McCullin himself, eloquent, self-aware, analytical, self-critical and to some extent tortured both by what he’s seen and by how it changed him into “a war junkie”.

McCullin – at Amazon

 

 

Babette’s Feast (Artificial Eye, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)

The Blu-ray debut of the 1987 drama – hands down the best film about food ever made – an almost erotic slow-tease about a Frenchwoman in puritanical Denmark who wins a small 19th century lottery and sets about converting the locals to her way of thinking via an extravagantly sumptuous banquet.

Babette’s Feast – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Traffic

 

 

 

Traffic started life as Traffik, a 1989 mega-mini-series following the heroin trail from Pakistan through Germany and into the UK. It was brutal, it was gruelling and it was a cracker. The decision to remake it as a leg-knotting 2hr 20 min single film, and transfer the action to Mexico and the US, delivers an extra hit, a political one. After all, the US government advocates free trade and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable principles while at the same time banning the importation and enjoyment of drugs. It’s this fault line that Traffic patrols, as it follows four interwoven stories: the drugs czar (Michael Douglas) with the addict daughter; the feds trying to bust a dealer; the wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) taking up the reins of her husband’s trafficking business; and the decent Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro) falling foul of the drugs barons. No one comes out smelling of roses, or poppies for that matter, in a masterfully shot film that doesn’t finger-wag, preferring an it’s-all-a-mess shrug. Result: both sides of the drugs debate count director Steven Soderbergh as one of their own. Two-way Traffic, I suppose.

 

Traffic – at Amazon

 

 

Popes on Film

Pope Benedict in Brasil in his red loafers

News that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to hang up the red papal slippers sets the mind a-wandering. Who are the great popes of cinema? Oddly, this is a harder question to answer than you might think. For starters, there are many films that feature a pope at the edge of the action but very very few are actually about a pope. Also, the pope, though held in contempt in some quarters, gets a rather easy ride in the movies, possibly because so many Hollywood films were made by Jewish emigres with first hand experience of what can happen when religion is dragged into the foreground. Either way, popes and knuckle-whitening drama don’t seem to be a natural fit.

 

So here’s a list of popes on film – chosen for variety, if nothing else.

 

 

Habemus Papam (2001, dir: Nanni Moretti)

A detailed and fascinating view of the Catholic Church which weaves footage from John Paul II’s funeral into a story about a newly elected, doubt-plagued pope doing a bunk and going walkabout in Rome. It is not only beautifully acted (by Michel Piccoli) and brilliantly plotted but also hugely under-rated, possibly because Moretti ignored promptings to go for cliches and easy targets.

The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968, dir: Michael Anderson)

A film from the 1960s about the 1980s which asked us to imagine the fantastic proposition of a man from Eastern Europe (Ukraine, in this case) being elected Pope. It happened of course, though the Pole Karel Wojtyla made it to the throne of St Peter as John Paul II in 1978, a little ahead of the faintly similarly named Kiril Lakota (played by Anthony Quinn) in this tortuously plotted if not downright dull biopic with small parts for actors of the calibre of Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud.

Pope Joan (1972, dir: Michael Anderson)

Here’s director Michael Anderson’s follow-up to The Shoes of the Fisherman, another film about a pope, this time the supposedly true story of the woman who dressed up in men’s clothes and ended up being elected pontiff. It’s a bit of a stretch, imagining that anyone could mistake Liv Ullmann for a man, but the plot ignores such problems as it cuts back and forth between the present day and a thousand years ago to present a twin-track drama that manages to bore across the millennium.

The Pope Must Die (1991, dir: Peter Richardson)

An offshoot of Britain’s Comic Strip, a loose collection of comedic talent, this broad, loose and intermittently amusing farce sees the large-boned Robbie Coltrane playing the all too fallible priest accidentally elected to the top job in the Catholic Church. The idea of actually killing the pope, or even suggesting it in the title, was too much in some territories, where this film was renamed The Pope Must Diet. Come on, that’s a good “did you know”.

Only available as a VHS

 

 

Becket (1964, dir: Peter Glenville)

A cheeky attempt on my part to shoehorn in one of the outstanding films of the 1960s. The Pope, played here by Paolo Stoppa, does get a walk-on role, but the film is really a smackdown between Peter O’Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket, the “meddlesome priest”. Both actors are at their bellowing, titanic peak and they act out the powerplay between church and state as a kind of gay love story gone a bit skew-whiff. Camp as a hosepipe, entirely mesmerising.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

Great Films About Food

With the good burghers of the UK reeling from revelations that there’s more horse in their impossibly cheap frozen dinners and meat patties than in the 2.30 from Uttoxeter, I started thinking about food in films. Not the “food as scene setter” – though who doesn’t hanker after a cosy neighbourhood Italian restaurant with booths and checky tablecloths, the sort you see in old Scorsese movies – no, I’m after the ones where food is either pivotal, or transgressive, or transformational. Significant, in other words. By the way, I bought these burgers from Tesco – and they’re off!

 

 

Babette’s Feast (1987, dir: Gabriel Axel)

Often held up as the best film about food – I’d go along with that – Babette’s Feast dangles sensual pleasure in front of our noses for almost its entire duration, then finally gives us what we’ve been waiting for. The food is like a big payoff romantic moment. Based on a Karen Blixen novel (as was Out of Africa) it tells of an emigre Frenchwoman holed up in some puritanical Danish nowhere who suddenly discovers she’s had a big lottery win. To celebrate, she decides to cook a banquet, as only a Frenchwoman could, and invite all the locals. The only problem being that the locals don’t hold with fancy eating of any sort. Lobster… truffles… alcohol! The joy of this film is watching austere 19th century protestants yield to innocent, life-affirming and, yes, god-honouring pleasure. Fabulous, though best not watched on an empty stomach.

Babette’s Feast – at Amazon

 

Eating Raoul (1982, dir: Paul Bartel)

A cult item in the early 1980s – it ran and ran in the small tatty cinemas that still existed then. It’s a story about everyday folk luring swingers to their home, then killing and robbing them, before being left with a waste disposal problem. It’s not so much the plot that pulled in the crowds but the way in which director Paul Bartel tells the story. Deadpan black comedy. You see a lot of that about these days, but you didn’t back then.

Eating Raoul – at Amazon

 

Soylent Green (1973, dir: Richard Fleischer)

One of a small handful of interesting sci-fi films that Charlton Heston – too old for the chariot – made at the time (Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man also spring to mind), Soylent Green was the last film of a sick looking Edward G Robinson and an early arrival in the genre now known as dystopian sci-fi, which regularly features big government and big business in an unholy war against the little guy. I doubt that many people used the word “dystopian” too often back then. In the upcoming Cloud Atlas one of Jim Broadbent’s many characters shouts in a moment of madness – “Soylent Green is people,” Chuck’s big line at the end of the film. Sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen it.

Soylent Green – at Amazon

 

The Turin Horse (2011, dir: Béla Tarr)

The great Hungarian auteur best known for his epic Werckmeister Harmonies claims that this is his last film. And what a way to go. As if he were saying “you want arthouse, I’ll give you arthouse”, Tarr starts out with a little preamble about the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s final sane act – he threw his arms around the neck of a horse that was being beaten to protect it. After that he took to his bed, never spoke again, went entirely mad and died. Then, in a muted monochrome (as if shot by Bergman’s cinematographer Sven Nykvist), Tarr introduces us to what looks like the entirely unrelated, unchangingly miserable, almost entirely wordless lives of an old farmer and his young daughter. The highlight of each day being when they eat dinner – a single large potato which they fall on as if they’ve never seen food before, while the gale moans, the soundtrack clanks and an off-screen extra throws yet another bucket of dried leaves into the wind machine. Bleak doesn’t begin to describe it. Yet it is intensely gripping. What is the crotchety Hungarian doing? I reckon he’s having a big arthouse laugh.

The Turin Horse – at Amazon

 

 

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007, dir: Cristian Mungiu)

One of the best directors working in Europe right now, and a key player in the Romanian New Wave of the noughties, Mungiu has not bettered this incredibly dark film about a girl going to get an illegal abortion in the grim old days of the Ceausescu regime. Piling misery on misery, indignity on indignity – at one point the abortionist decides he needs extra payment, sex with both the pregnant girl and her accompanying friend – the film’s payoff shot, right after we’ve seen a newly born, newly dead baby lying on a bathroom floor, is the plate of food brought to the girl in the restaurant of the hotel where she’s had the procedure. It’s offal, breaded brains, cold cuts and the grimly reminiscent like. Cue end titles and Mungiu’s ta daaa – a card comes up with the words “From the series Tales from the Golden Age“. Comedies don’t come much darker than that.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – at Amazon

 

PS I didn’t mention Sweeney Todd because I can’t stand the melody-dodging music of Sondheim, much as I love his lyrics, and Johnny Depp is many things but a singer isn’t one of them.

PPS Also didn’t mention Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the great documentary about the sushi master with a tiny resto in the basement of a Tokyo office building. And also forgot Our Daily Bread (2005) another documentary, this time an astonishing one about the increasingly mechanised production of food.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

18 February 2013-02-18

 Out in the UK This Week

 

 

 

Skyfall (MGM, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Towards the end of the 50th anniversary Bond the whole things starts feeling like a double page spread in a posh magazine – all whisky, heather and vintage vehicles. You feel it’s only a matter of time before Bryan Ferry is spotted draped languidly about something. Which is a slight pity because until then this has been one of the best Bonds of the lot, a dark, dirty and thrilling caper, in which much is made of 007’s dinosaur status – he loves ye olde cut-throat razor and ye olde spy gadget. “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” says the impossibly young new Q (Ben Whishaw) to Daniel Craig’s 007 at one point. “We don’t really go in for that any more.” It’s a film simultaneously acknowledging its past, retooling for the future and even, sharp intake of breath, pointing out that Mr Craig isn’t going to be wearing those Tom Ford suits for that much longer – he’s knocking on a bit. Meanwhile, Sam Mendes lifts lots of stylistic touches and set pieces from Hitchcock and Javier Bardem continues the venerable Bond tradition of the gay Bond villain (no?). Plot: see other Bonds for details.

Skyfall – at Amazon

 

Hit & Run (Momentum, cert 15, DVD/download)

Here’s a much maligned cross-country road caper in which writer/director/star Dax Shepard and co-star Kristen Bell are pursued by men who are trying to hurt them – for reasons which matter only enough to keep the film moving forwards. It’s the sort of thing where cars have more personality than women, where we’re told via broad grinning that a joke has just been told, everyone shouts, eyebrows are permanently at semi-hoist and a man can get whacked in the face by a golf club to no ill effect. Shepard has reinvented the Burt Reynolds movie, in other words. Apply shit-eating grin and enjoy.

 Hit and Run – at Amazon

 

 

Angèle & Tony (Saffron Hill, cert 15, DVD)

It’s called either Angèle & Tony or Angel and Tony and it’s worth searching out this warm yet minimalist, simple and believable French drama about a woman out of prison trying to make a human connection in a fishing community. This is that rare thing, a film that says what it’s got to say and then just ends, just like that. If only more films would, instead of flannelling on.

Angel and Tony – at Amazon

 

 

Tower Block (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

It’s been called a hoodie horror but this clunkily written yet, thanks to good acting, effective film is actually more like Phone Booth crossed with the Poseidon Adventure. Sheridan Smith stars as one of a bunch of residents on the top floor of a council block being picked off by some nutter with a high velocity rifle. Who’s next? Who’s playing Shelley Winters?

Tower Block – at Amazon

 

 

Petit Nicolas (Soda, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

There’s a lot of Tati-esque humour – ie modern life is rubbish – in this 1960s-set French comedy about young Nicolas and his gang of schoolboy friends – the fat one, the idiot, the rich one and so on. It’s a live action affair but its origins in a comic by Goscinny (of Asterix fame) are evident. So is the tendency towards the twee.

Petit Nicolas – at Amazon

 

 

The Substance (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

It’s 70 years since Albert Hoffmann first synthesised LSD from the black ergot fungus in his Swiss lab. This unsensational documentary is well researched – there’s an interview with Hoffman himself, still cogent and lucid at 100, in spite of or possibly because of all the acid he self-administered. It tells the story of Acid down the decades – the initial excitement as its therapeutic use as an anti-psychotic were discovered, the Cold War experiments into its use as a mind-control drug designed to create the perfect, totally controllable soldier or to freak out an enemy population, to the hippie years of “turn on, tune in, drop out”, to the Nixon administration’s panicked “war on drugs” and the banning of any further research (the rest of the world kow-towing) to now, when the people in white coats are once again examining its potential as a psychiatric wonder-drug.

The Substance – at Amazon

 

 

Love (High Fliers, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

There was a “have I got the right disc” thing going on at the start of this film. The box says sci-fi but my screen was showing a scene from the American Civil War. I stuck with it and all was eventually explained, and by the film’s end I’d heard alt-rock supergroup Angels & Airwaves’ entirely appropriate Pink Floyd-y soundtrack over a dreamy sci-fi tale of an astronaut losing his noddle out in space. It’s a bit like Duncan Jones’s Moon, though different enough to make it worth the journey.

Love – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

The Olsen It’s Cool to Like

Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of those squeaky Olsen twins, is going into the family business. Is the business ready for her? Is our interviewer?

 

 

One of the hazards of this journalism game, particularly if you’re a middle aged man, is meeting attractive young female actors in the interview situation. They’re likely to look at you intently, laugh at your feeble stabs at humour, lean towards you confidentially, look interested. And of course they’re in the acting game, so being plausible is a large part of what they do. It’s unbelievably easy to believe these bundles of talent and hotness fancy you. It’s a frequent occurrence to leave the interview completely smitten.

Take Elizabeth Olsen. She’s the younger sister of the Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, the semi-anorexic tween moppets who defied expectation by NOT ending up in some internet sex tape scandal. Instead, now they’re heading towards fashion/fragrance billionairedom. Yes, take 23-year-old Elizabeth Olsen, fresh, bright-eyed, talented, giggly, intelligent, cool, offbeat…

Olsen, suddenly, is everywhere, harvesting awards for her remarkable work in the odd almost-thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which she plays the multi-monickered lead, a young woman whose tangle with a weird religious cult has left her dazed and bruised. And it’s just one of four films she’s made in the last year.

“Yeh,” she laughs throatily when I ask about the twins, “I’m the curvy one.” As you might expect from a young woman who reels off her favourite TV without a blink – “Masterchef, Iron Chef, Top Chef, The Food Network.” And she laughs again.

This is refreshing. A young woman who eats normally, looks normal, doesn’t seem to be obsessed about her weight, her looks, seems well adjusted, very normal. Normal? That’s odd, isn’t it? Considering the showbiz family background, Olsen ought to be at least 50 per cent straitjacket. Instead she comes over as some sorted, feisty goddess, a bundle of optimistic can-do.

She wears a beat-up bomber jacket, a pair of old loafers, is cool to the point of knowing that Facebook is a gigantic pain, “but I need it.” Loves a bit of old school – “I’ve really got a bit of a Van Morrison thing going on right now.” She’s that rare thing – a rounded individual.

So she followed her sisters into acting? “I didn’t, actually. The people I grew up with and went to school with ever since I was five… we would make movies and do plays together. We made The Wizard of Oz when we were in kindergarten. It was awful”.

The way Elizabeth tells it she actually resisted the easy option. “Even when I was ten, people would say, ‘Do you want to do this straight-to-DVD, interactive kid’s book thing?’ I just decided to keep training, and along the way started understudying for Broadway and off-Broadway plays.”

She got the Martha Marcy May Marlene gig how? “I auditioned. They chose to go with an unknown. That was so cool.”

Do I believe this totally connected, biz-attuned sibling of twin-pack famousness did it entirely unaided? Cynic that I am, I do. Maybe I’m being snowed by a total professional.

Bolstering this “I did it my way” claim is her performance in MMMM. Olsen doesn’t just create an entire character with very little – this is real “less is more” stuff – she also manages to suggest what her character might have been like before the whole cult business even happened. It’s remarkable, unnerving even.

Ask her how she did that and the answer is straight – “There are good things about her – you can actually have empathy for this person because she’s fully realized, as opposed to just being an off-balance, naïve girl.”

Agreed, this doesn’t really answer the question, but that’s actors for you. Considering what normally happens when you invite an actor to talk about the internal process it’s remarkable enough that there’s still oxygen in the room.

So I ask her again, in a slightly different way. Is she a Method girl – staying up for nights on end to “understand” exhaustion, putting on or losing weight, trying to connect personally to the character’s psyche. Brando, De Niro, Pacino etc etc.

It turns out that New York University, where Olsen has been studying acting, has an affiliate programme with the Atlantic Theater Company. And she’s been on it. “It’s David Mamet and William H. Macy’s company. A playwright created it, so the script is your bible. You follow the script and you try not to mess it up.”

So no Method madness? No Daniel Day-Lewis stuff (training for two years with Barry McGuigan for the film The Boxer for instance). “You’re not the same person as the person in the script. Working with Cillian Murphy on [supernatural drama] Red Lights was really interesting. We’d be in conversation about something really random and the director would say, ‘Okay, rolling.’ We’d do the scene and then Cillian would say, ‘So, as I was saying…’ And he’d pick up exactly where he’d left off. I think that’s kind of a healthy way of working… ”

At last year’s Sundance, Olsen was there with Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Silent House, one of those genre horrors where a nice young girl is stalked by an older guy with a cleaver. She was the It girl of the festival. “To find out that the two movies I’d worked on had got into Sundance… that is so awesome,” she said at the time. Now, looking back, she admits that beneath that buzzy, gregarious exterior – “cool… awesome… amazing” – she was in fact “terrified”.

Well, she’s going to have to get used to it. This easy-going kinda hipster – loves the music of Bon Iver, Sharon Von Atten and Ani DiFranco (“always”) – is going straight into the big league. Red Lights, with Cillian Murphy, also features De Niro and Sigourney Weaver (“a great, funny woman”), as well as touchstone of excellence Toby Jones. And because of the weird time frames of the movie business we’ve also still not seen the first film she made, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, starring Catherine Keener (“amazing”) and Jane Fonda (“she was a riot… the craziest stories”).

Bruce Beresford, who directed it (along with Driving Miss Daisy), reckons she’s the new Kate Winslet – “She’s going to get every role she goes for,” he said. And being the new Kate Winslet, in the first flush of her career, means she’s going to be taking her clothes off a fair bit, right, as she does in Martha Marcy May Marlene? Olsen’s ready for this one. “I heard recently that America has the biggest porn industry – yet everyone hates seeing nudity in American films. It’s a funny paradox. But in this film I always knew that it was to serve a purpose. A woman’s body can be very beautiful.”

Indeed it can, Ms Olsen. “It’s so odd to watch myself, sitting in an audience, especially in Martha cos I’m naked, and now everybody knows what I look like.” She laughs lustily, not least at her own pronunciation of the word “naked” – elongating the “a” throatily, coquettishly, girlishly, innocently.

Yes, smitten. It’s happened again.

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene opens Fri 3 Feb

 

The Silent House opens in April

 

© Steve Morrissey 2012

 

 

 

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

 

 

Thanks to the postmodern turn of our retro-fixated culture, even teenagers today have heard of the great Tamla-Motown label. And playing on nearly every one of the 110 top ten hits coming out of Detroit between 1959 and 1972 were a loose collaboration of crack musicians called the Funk Brothers. They played on The Supremes “Baby Love”, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” and Smokey Robinson’s “The Tears Of A Clown”. More hits, according to this film’s preamble, than the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys and Elvis combined. And having done all that for Motown and having turned its owner into a very wealthy man, the Funk Brothers were rewarded by Motown boss Berry Gordy by being fired – via a notice pinned to the studio door. What Gordy didn’t realise was that that little note was also the company’s creative death warrant. Of course Motown has had hits since. But Boyz II Men and Erykah Badu? Against the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder? Pardon the snorts. Paul Justman’s fine documentary has two distinct strands – the guys, those still living anyway, remembering how it was back in the day when Motown produced music 22 hours a day and when an orchestra-sized musical unit would cram into an old garage and lay down “the sound of young America”. Then there’s the modern update, with the survivors playing a reunion concert alongside the likes of guest vocalists Montell Jordan, Chaka Khan and Meshell Ndegeocello. The singers are, you know, OK, but it’s that mighty mighty sound that this film’s about. And when the Funk Brothers kick into its opening bars and “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” starts boom-cha-booming at you in Dolby Surround, don’t be surprised if the hairs on your neck stand up, lay down, then start a Mexican wave to the beat.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Standing in the Shadows of Motown – at Amazon