5 August 2013-08-05

Rosario Dawson

Out in the UK This Week

 

Trance (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Danny Boyle’s attempt to retake the crown as Britain’s most commercially savvy yet critically hailed director – current holder Christopher Nolan – sees him heading up Inception avenue with a crime thriller. Trance takes a basic heist plot, throws hypnosis and multiple levels of reality into the mix, then lays on the group dynamic of Shallow Grave. Which means that auction-house gopher James McAvoy, hypnotherapist Rosario Dawson and gangster Vincent Cassel are playing a threesome not exactly at ease in each other’s company. There’s much to enjoy here, particularly Boyle’s sense of pace, Cassel’s cool Mr Nasty turn and Dawson’s sheer sexiness, but as the film wanders towards its denouement, it makes less and less sense and loses its grip on the emotions. Oh well, 75% there isn’t too bad.

Trance – at Amazon

 

 

Good Vibrations (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Here’s a nice little film about a real-life chancer, Terri Hooley, a Belfast man who in the 1970s used nous, charm and chat to help him open a record shop in a benighted part of a city living a zombie existence as the Troubles took their cultural toll. Hooley went on to release the Undertones’ most famous record, Teenage Kicks, and was pivotal in the local punk and new wave scene. Good Vibrations will mean most to those who remember when the 7” single was seen as having revolutionary power, but it’s an enjoyable and admirably spare entertainment which says what it has to say and then gets out. There are more famous names in the cast list – Jodie Whittaker, Dylan Moran, Liam Cunningham – but they’re only window dressing. It’s Richard Dormer, as Hooley, who is the focus, and he’s entirely believable as Hooley, last of the rock’n’roll dreamers.

Good Vibrations – at Amazon

 

 

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (Metrodome, cert 12, DVD)

I turned this off after five minutes, then turned it back on again. I’m glad I did. Because what looked initially like a shaky piece of nothing turned out to be a remarkable film. Rodrigo Gudiño is its director and he’s taken the Spanish Haunted House genre and pared it back to its basics – a house, a man in it, a voiceover by Vanessa Redgrave as the house’s departed owner (my resistance to Redgrave being one of the reasons for the early rush to judgment) and a restless camera that keeps wrong-footing us – are they random slides and glides or the POV of something sinister? The squeaky, groany soundtrack is entirely in keeping with this atmospheric piece of work, a meditation on faith and possession with just a drop of Rosemary’s Baby in the mix somewhere.

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – at Amazon

 

 

Blancanieves (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

After the success of The Artist it was only a matter of time before someone else had a go at a silent film. This Spanish reworking of the Snow White story is it, with Maribel Verdú getting to pull all the best poses as the wicked stepmother who has stolen the bullfighting daddy away from his daughter. The cinematographic technique is all over the place in terms of period authenticity but there are undoubtedly some beautifully shot moments in a film that never looks less than sumptuous. Give it an hour – yes a whole 60 minutes – and the dwarfs arrive, at which point the story starts to focus more properly on Snow White and the whole thing comes to life.

Blancanieves – at Amazon

 

 

Stolen (Lionsgate, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Good title, Stolen. Since the whole idea has been stolen from the film Taken. Except this time it isn’t Liam Neeson playing the dad on the trail of his daughter, it’s Nicolas Cage. And he’s back under the directorial control (if that’s the word) of Simon West, his director in Con Air. So, you know what you’re getting then, more of Cage’s “mega-acting” (as outlawvern calls it). The never terrible Danny Huston works hard to prove his relevance to the whole affair as the cop on Cage’s case, even putting on a Popeye Doyle hat. Meanwhile Josh Lucas plays Cage’s nemesis, a former buddy who has lost a leg and now gets about on a tin version of a pirate’s pegleg. Which only encourages him to try some mega-acting of his own.

Stolen – at Amazon

 

 

Dark Skies (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A mix of the Exorcist, Paranormal Activity and Sixth Sense, stirred into life by Kerri Russell, who seems to be the go-to actress for a certain kind of almost-good movie. In this case it’s a haunted house thingie set in sub-Spielbergian picket-fence USA, where Russell and family are being monstered by persons or entities unknown. Paranoia is the mood that director Scott Stewart is after and he summons it well, showing he’s also a dab hand at dramatic pace. It’s familiar, too familiar if I’m being honest, but there are some good spooky moments.

Dark Skies – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Song of Summer: Frederick Delius

Max Adrian as Frederick Delius in Song of Summer

 

Any follower of British arts programmes on TV, from the South Bank Show backwards, will be aware of the bleating of Ken Russell and his ilk that no one really makes ’em like they did in the Sixties, when clever chaps freshly down from Oxbridge would be sent out with a curmudgeonly working-class crew and instructed to make films on anything that took their white-shirted fancy. Well, I have to report that Russell’s 1968 B/W film on Delius does back him up. Detailing the strange five-year relationship between Eric Fenby, the young amanuensis who helped blind dying syphilitic Frederick Delius complete some of his most noted works, it is very good indeed.

Russell wasn’t in fact an Oxbridge boy, he was more a self-made maverick, though he did benefit from the BBC system of sending out trainees with seasoned techies. The result was a string of accomplished films on the arts, Russell’s 1962 film on Elgar (called Elgar) being the one that made his name. But it’s this Delius film that will probably endure. Russell believed it to be his best work and it’s tempting to see it as at least partly an expression of his own persona – Delius the romantic, impetuous and dreadful genius figure foreshadowing the cantankerous old devil that Russell would become. Shot in expressive monochrome, it’s beautifully played by a hawkish Max Adrian (as Delius), Christopher Gable as the quivering prudish devotee Fenby and Maureen Pryor as Delius’s wife Jelka, a woman who had given her life to her husband, only to be told by him “It is only from art that you’ll find lust and happiness.” Russell is clearly siding with Delius and the art-is-everything bohemian idea which took root in the early 20th century and more or less held sway right to its end.

Later in his career Russell would get the budgets that would let him increasingly abandon reality in his portraits of composers, as he did in his films of Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Liszt. Here he’s restrained by Fenby – who collaborated on the script, doing for Russell what he’d done for Delius – and isn’t allowed to splurge. With the Delius film we see Russell kneeling before a man he considered an artist, before he fell for the grandiose idea that, since he was an artist himself, whatever he produced must be art.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

 Song of Summer: Frederick Delius – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Murder

Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen in A Perfect Murder

 

 

 

 

Andrew Davis has made something of a specialty of directing thrillers. He made Steven Seagal’s best film, Under Siege, and Chuck Norris’s best film too, Code of Silence. He’s also responsible for the breathless chase of The Fugitive and for this remake of Frederick Knott’s play Dial M for Murder, on which Hitchcock based his 1954 movie. The “perfect murder”, beloved of films of a certain vintage, now seems almost as dated a concept as that of the criminal mind. However Davis and adapter Patrick Smith Kelly squeeze a little more mileage out of it by playing up what you might call the Gordon Gecko aspects – cash and deceit. Which brings us to the cast – Michael Douglas plays the powerful husband of an heiress wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) who discovers she’s been having an affair with a fairly broke artist (Viggo Mortensen). What then follows includes a little bit of a murder and an awful lot of chicanery. We’re in the world of the fork-tongued dialogue, something Douglas is a proven talent at, and both Paltrow (here auditioning for the Grace Kelly memorial ice queen show) and Mortensen show they’re not bad at either. There’s no point pretending this isn’t a hugely stagy film. But it doesn’t seem to bother Davis, who realises that the “action” in this film comes entirely from the verbal jousting. The ending – it’s a bit thin – but by then the enjoyment has been had.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

A Perfect Murder – at Amazon

 

 

 

Ultraviolet

Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet

 

 

 

Now I like a film in which an attractive young woman gets into skimpy clothes to kick butt as much as the next man. But if you’ve seen the tragic mess that was Aeon Flux, I’m afraid that Ultraviolet is more of the same, and no amount of Milla Jovovich in stomach-revealing, futuristic outfits can help it. Speaking her handful of lines in the now standard Clint Eastwood growl, Jovovich plays the genetically modified super-athlete, part-vampire cross – a Hemophage – who is attempting to protect a young child who knows the secret of the whereabouts of the Holy Grail / can prevent the creation of Skynet, or something similarly important. It really doesn’t matter. Since what Ultraviolet is about, rather than what the plot is telling us its about, is Milla J, fighting fights in the cartwheeling kung fu manner, and dispatching phalanxes of foes amid a flurry of comicbook CGI that always looks like CGI, to a soundtrack which has plenty of that banging metal door. You can hand director Kurt Wimmer a gold star for hitting a button in the post-production suite that made everything look like brushed metal. And you can take it away again for nicking most of his ideas from other films, which is pretty much what he did with his last outing, Equilibrium. Milla looks great though, but if you want Milla kicking butt, looking great and a bit of solid storytelling to boot, there’s already Resident Evil. As for Ultraviolet it’s a case of “pretty girl, pretty stupid movie”.

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

Ultraviolet – at Amazon

 

22 July 2013-07-22

Fabrice Luchini between blow-up dollies of Stalin and Mao in In the House

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

 

In The House (Momentum, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

François Ozon’s thriller/farce is as clever as you’d expect from a man who gave us the relationship-in-reverse drama 5X2. Here he’s again examining the nature of storytelling with a film about a teacher who becomes infatuated with his star pupil’s stories, each of which ends with a “to be continued”. And in the continuation the story – and the teenager writing them – becomes more and more involved in the older man’s life. There’s post-structuralism in there, if you’re feeling smart. But the whole thing works just as well as a dark farce played to the hilt by a brilliant cast including Fabrice Luchini as the teacher, the sleek Ernst Umhauer as the cuckoo pupil.

In the House – at Amazon

 

 

GI Joe: Retaliation (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

The first GI Joe was camp rubbish, a shitstorm of CGI, bullets and constantly climaxing Wagnerian orchestras all modelled – so the IMDB tells us but you’d never spot it yourself – on James Bond. This sequel is actually pretty good. An impressively limber actionfest that seems to have taken its cues, properly, from Mission Impossible, it claims to have Channing Tatum as its star. But he’s dead before he’s even managed to take his top off, leaving the perfectly OK Dwayne Johnson to run through the “you’ve been disavowed – let’s get payback” plot. And off it goes on its multi-stranded journey, one of the strands featuring Bruce Willis, another a bit of ninja fighting. Unlike the first film the SFX are effective, the fight sequences pack some weight and there’s also some impressive vehicular action for the petrolheads. Hats off to director Jon M Chu, who has clearly learnt about the importance of all sorts of choreography from his time on the Step Up dance sequels.

GI Joe: Retaliation – at Amazon

 

 

White Elephant (Axiom, cert 15, DVD)

Pablo Trapero’s update of the lip-quivering 1950s melodrama is about priests working in a Buenos Aires shantytown. It’s a meat-and-potatoes film, not a white-hot piece of genre reworking, the way Carancho was. Casting is a strong suit – Ricardo Darín and Martina Gusman, both familiar Trapero faces, being joined by Jérémie Renier, playing the young priest doubting the value of his work and wobbling like a comet in the gravitational pull of a heavenly body (that’s Martina Gusman, who genuinely tries to dial down her beauty, to little effect). You might have expected, at this point in his career, for Trapero to go for an international breakout. He hasn’t. Admirably, frustratingly, he’s gone for a film that will resonate most with homegrown audiences – the white elephant of the title is an abandoned hospital standing empty since the 1930s, a symbol of the stalled development of Argentina. Solid, worthy, well built.

White Elephant – at Amazon

 

 

Beware of Mr Baker (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Jay Bulger’s documentary takes its title from the sign at the entrance to the legendary Cream drummer’s spread in South Africa and straight away sets out its stall with a scene where the 70something Baker hits Bulger hard in the face with the stick he now uses to help him walk. It’s an assault, pure and simple, but sets the tone for what is to come, Baker lashing out irritably, mouthing off (“We were fucking good. That’s why we called ourselves Cream”), slagging off fellow musicians, being breathtakingly candid in a way that is gold dust for a documentarian. Meanwhile, Bulger assembles footage from Baker’s past, including stints with Fela Kuti and John Lydon, and interleaves the whole thing with talking heads. The drummers among them (Stuart Copeland, Lars Ulrich, Nick Mason) are voluble in their appreciation, while the non-drummers often tell stories of how Baker punched them too. Wonderful.

Beware of Mr Baker – at Amazon

 

 

The ABCs of Death (Monster, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

26 films from 26 directors, some of them now fairly famous – Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens and Simon Rumley – most of them well known to horror buffs. They’re all short, obviously, wildly different (try F is for Fart by Noboru Iguchi or O Is for Orgasm by Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet for size) and there is the odd stab of excellence (I particularly liked Ben Wheatley’s one, U Is for Unearthed, about the killing of a vampire from the victim’s point of view), even if there aren’t quite enough really great ones to make this a memorable exercise.

The ABCs of Death – at Amazon

 

 

One. Two. One (Second Run, cert PG, DVD)

Films are often said to be a “snapshot” of a certain culture at a certain time. Mania Akbari’s film about a beautiful woman disfigured by an acid attack actually looks like one. Set in present-day Iran, it is composed entirely of almost static straight-on headshots – now in the beautician’s where the attacked wife is being “repaired”, now in the psychiatrist’s, now the fortune teller’s and so on, with occasional digressions to the prison where her husband and attacker (also shot head on) is now languishing for his crime. The tug between traditional and modern is the theme, with mobile phones featuring strongly – the disruptive technology that gets round all attempts to keep in place the chaperone culture. It’s brilliantly acted, remarkable in fact, and though we’ve no clear idea of timescale, whether some things are set in the past (before the attack) or after (when this bright, outgoing woman has healed), it is the insights on Iran itself and the quiet way the film is hollering “you’re doomed, doomed” to the old culture that makes this such a strange, powerful, unusual piece of work.

One. Two. One. – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

 

 

Jazz On A Summer’s Day

Anita O'Day in Jazz on a Summer's Day

 

 

Back when cats wore hats, stills photographer Bert Stern, fresh from his famous shoot with Marilyn Monroe in the buff, went off to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and made a film about Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day, Mahalia Jackson, Jack Teagarden, Gerry Mulligan, and even Chuck Berry, as they displayed their formidable talents and charismas for the moneyed and honeyed of Rhode Island. It is the only film Stern ever made and the result is a colourful impressionistic blur – the musicians are at their relaxed best, and the audience is no less entertaining, decked out in what looks now like the finest retro-chic hip, all digging that jazz vibe, daddio. Meanwhile, in the background and adding another layer of cool and cash, the America’s Cup is being raced just off the coast.

The title is a lie, incidentally, since the film was shot over a weekend, but what’s the odd day or so when you’re talking about the best jazz film ever made, which is how Jazz on a Summer’s Day is frequently described. And that’s probably for two reasons – because of Stern’s eye for an image and because of the musicians on display. We’ll never see their like again.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Jazz on a Summer’s Day – at Amazon

 

 

 

State and Main

Rebecca Pidgeon and Philip Seymour Hoffman in State and Main

 

 

An intelligent and acidic if somewhat stagey comedy about a film production descending on a small New England town and the effect that each has on the other. It’s written and directed by David Mamet, not known for out and out comedy, but clearly feeling flighty at the moment, flighty enough to turn out the sort of farce you might expect from the French, or from Michael Frayn. And Mamet has the cast to perform it – Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julia Stiles and a surprisingly good Alec Baldwin, all of them upping their game in homage to a master of the blunt misanthropic object who has spent enough time writing and directing films to know what the standard types are, and how to polish them. So we get the innocent writer (Hoffman) who doesn’t want a word of his script changed; the tyro two-faced director (Macy) doglike in devotion or attack, depending on who he’s talking to; the female star (Sarah Jessica Parker) who suddenly gets coy about whipping her top off; the male star (Baldwin) with a penchant for jailbait; the jailbait (Stiles) with a penchant for male stars; the cameraman in a beret; the schlemiel of a producer. And so on. Meanwhile, there’s the occupants of the hayseed town they descend on, including Charles Durning and Patti LuPone. They’re hayseeds, but funny hayseeds, every bit as venal as the film folk, but they’ve just had less time to perfect their shtick. Under the farce plotting of wild coincidence and Mamet’s satirical stabs, the film seems to be saying something about how far “entertainment” (when someone else does it and you watch) is from “fun” (when you do it yourself) and how the movies are somehow killing us all. Movie critics, most of them armchair-loving lazy asses, not surprisingly didn’t like State and Main very much. And of course they’re right to be cagey, Mamet being an entertainment mogul, and all.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

State and Main – at Amazon

 

 

Hannibal

Julianne Moore and Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal

This may not be the best film out this week, but it is the one that is shouting loudest. Who doesn’t want to see Anthony Hopkins return to the role of Hannibal the Cannibal after several years of haggling over his fee, which includes an agreement to make one more film featuring everyone’s favourite cultured cannibal?

Hannibal’s plot sees Hopkins’s Dr Lecter returning to the USA, having been lured back from Italy by an elaborate hoax cooked up by Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a former victim of Lecter’s, who has survived a fiendish munching and is now using Agent Clarice Starling as bait to get payback.

The plot is familiar cat v mouse stuff, but the big question is what sort of sequel do we have here – the useful continuation of a story that left us all dangling last time out, or something that’s been contrived by the back office?

Hopkins, one of the world’s most compelling screen presences, gives a strong hint early on, megaphoning in a performance of utter self-parody, suggesting that this is a smash-and-grab job. Everyone else follows suit with the overacting, there being no such thing as the Silence of the Hams. Indeed Gary Oldman’s performances is so ridiculous that he’s taken out an insurance policy – he’s disguised beyond recognisability. And taking over from the very wise Jodie Foster as Clarice-s-s-s-s is Julianne Moore, who is required via facial gesture to suggest that she is simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by a man who eats people.

In the director’s chair, Ridley Scott has nothing new to say and so instead lays on all the clichés he can remember from his days directing adverts – slo-mo fans, rooms full of mist, cars gracefully swooshing across bridges.

On the upside, it does all look pretty nice thanks to DP John Mathieson, particularly in Italy where the Florentine plazas and likes of Giancarlo Giannini and Francesca Neri remind us how timelessly cool Italy is. And butchery fans will be delighted with the variety of viscera, organs and offal on offer, all of it served up with an insouciant grin and a raised eyebrow. Ray Liotta, ooh dear. I’ll say no more.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

 Hannibal – at Amazon

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15 July 2013-07-15

Frank Langella and Robot

Out in the UK this week

Robot & Frank (Entertainment One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Telling the story of an old guy who is losing his marbles and his will to live, this smallscale film drops us into the action at just about the point when his family have had enough of him and have sourced him a helper robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). It’s the future, it seems, though it’s not a future that dissimilar to our own. The old guy, played with all the colours in the palette by Frank Langella, turns out to have been a career criminal, a bad dad, a poor husband. Where his mind is at is where the film is at – though you could equally well say that it’s about reminding us how good Langella is when he’s given the space. It’s a funny, smart, cool and entertaining film with a sting in the tail and there are tiny roles for James Marsden and Liv Tyler. And it will doubtless be overlooked by many because “some old guy” is in it.

Robot & Frank – at Amazon

 

 

Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner, cert 12, download)

The reviews for this seem to have been a bit half-hearted but it is in fact a brilliantly told fairy story starring Nicholas Hoult as the Jack of Beanstalk fame. I suspect that the reason it got the middling reception is because the critics were watching it as a kiddie film for adults – the way Shrek is – an entirely reasonable thing to do given that it’s directed by Bryan Singer and at least part-written by Christopher McQuarrie, both of whom worked on The Usual Suspects. In fact, in spite of the 12 certificate, this film is better seen as an entertainment for bloodthirsty eight-year-olds (what’s a couple of stabbings in the chest here and there?). The casting, apart from Eleanor Tomlinson as the slightly wan princess, is uniformly excellent – Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Eddie Marsan all delivering exactly what is asked of them, which is, respectively, nobility, wickedness, heroics, snivelling and the salt of this very earth. I suspect this wonderful cinematic pantomime will rise up the rankings as the years pass.

 Jack the Giant Slayer – at Amazon

 

Arbitrage (Koch, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Another of those enjoyably reptilian turns by Richard Gere, here playing an uber-capitalist whose world of corporate chicanery starts to come crashing down after a Bonfire of the Vanities-style interruption to the normal epic flow of his life. Enter Tim Roth as a Columbo style detective on his case, and Susan Sarandon as his wife, well cast for a change as a woman not unfamiliar with the crooked way. Its trick – it is Gere’s trick really – is to keep us watching this moneyed lowlife and to sympathise as he wriggles and jiggles to get off the pin he’s on. Will he do it? That’s the dramatic heart of the film. Which is why it’s so baffling when, towards the end, the film’s focus starts to wander away from our protagonist and towards his wife and daughter. Until then, Arbitrage has been bang on the money.

Arbitrage – at Amazon

 

 

Flying Blind (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

Older woman Helen McCrory (excellent) locks loins with a younger man – result: sexual fireworks. What we know about her is that she’s a weapons researcher .What we know about him is that he’s a Muslim. So right off the bat this one is heading in a familiar direction. Enjoyable texture comes from an exploration of the idea of the sexual older woman. There’s also an almost-discussion of Edward Said’s notion of orientalism (ie the heady allure of the exotic gentleman). Plus an examination of the guilt, or otherwise, of the liberal middle classes (see Michael Haneke’s Hidden for the full fat version). These interesting ideas are wrapped in a crass plotline – I mean, she works on drones, for god’s sake. Drones! At no point does our gifted, brilliant, engaged heroine realise that her day job might in some way be the reason a much younger man has the hots for her. If you can ignore that failure to integrate character with plot, Flying Blind’s elephant in the room, you’ll enjoy this well played drama, its TV-ish looks and programmatic soundtrack notwithstanding.

Flying Blind – at Amazon

 

Identity Thief (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Identity Thief is Melissa McCarthy’s reward for doing what she did to Bridesmaids, which was to knock it off its rails every time it started getting too safe. Here she’s playing a shiftless identity thief who, having cloned Jason Bateman’s credit cards etc, is surprised when he turns up to face her down – why he has to do this rather than the police is the sort of detour the film is happy to make but you kind of wish it hadn’t. Other unwelcome side journeys include plotlines for superfluous characters – Genesis Rodriguez and TI as a couple of nasties also on their trail, plus Jason Patrick as a raddled bounty hunter – all of whom are there just to contribute to the gunzapoppin’ ending, which arrives about 20 minutes later than it really ought to. But McCarthy is undoubtedly funny, and her ability to riff filthy is what makes this overlong, overstuffed film worth a peek.

Identity Thief – at Amazon

 

Happiness Runs (Matchbox, cert 15, DVD)

This weird, interesting, ambitious drama with an axe to grind against the 1960s is about the offspring of hippies living on a commune that’s seen better days. The kids are all fucked up, thanks to their parents’ “whatever, man” philosophy. The parents, meanwhile, are still peddling the “letting it all hang out” guff to naïve city girls who are happy to offer their bodies in return for an afternoon of chanting and cod-Eastern noodling. We see all this through the eyes of Becky (Hanna Hall), a child of the commune who has returned from the city, a young woman who sees the bullshit for what it is, in a film that sets out to take down the hippie edifice, but then botches the mission, mostly by focusing on the wrong people. In other words, with a bit more Rutger Hauer (the commune guru) and fellow elders including Andie MacDowell, this would have been a much better film – let the dog see the rabbit, for god’s sake. Or maybe I’m getting it all wrong and the lack of focus, feeling of dislocation, wild changes in visual style and characterisation, plus Hall’s tendency to keep taking her clothes off for very little reason, is director/writer Adam Sherman’s attempt to create the visual analogue of psychedelic music. Maybe.

Happiness Runs – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Pitch Black

Vin Diesel in Pitch Black

 

 

A sci-fi shocker high on SFX, low on survivors and set on a planet where the self-serving and rather motley crew of an interplanetary cruiser are forced to pitch down after some unforeseen space ructions. It turns out that they are not alone on the planet. In fact this alien world is populated by some very unpleasant flying creatures who only come out in the dark. And – guess what – there’s a ginormous eclipse of the planet’s three suns on the way. Luckily, one of the spaceship’s number is gifted with uncanny nightsight. Unluckily, he is a vicious murderer locked in the ship’s brig. So there’s an awful lot of sucking of teeth and manoeuvring to be done before the killer’s heroics and redemption can begin. Co-writer/director David Twohy is something of a Hollywood workhorse, having written the butch GI Jane, the tense The Fugitive and a little thing called Waterworld, which at least had ambition, I think we can all agree. A director of low-key sci-fi on his days off – Timescape and the overlooked The Arrival are on the imdb and I’ve not seen either so no comment – but his big advantage in Pitch Black is that he has the industrially monikered Vin Diesel as reluctant (anti)hero, a man who can do muscle and soul at one and the same time. Let’s not pretend that this film is an original piece of work. It’s not, it’s a genre piece to its DNA. But Twohy’s excellent direction of mood, his command of the ensemble – Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser and Keith David being exactly the sort of actor you’d expect (talented but not too pricey) – and his ability to herd special effects technicians and point them all in the same direction has produced just the sort of midweek horror to whoop and slurp along to.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

Pitch Black – at Amazon