15 August 2013-08-15

Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine in Spring Breakers

Out in the UK This Week







The Gatekeepers (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

What sort of people would you expect the former heads of Israel’s counter terrorism agency, Shin Bet, to be? This documentary takes prejudices (mine, anyway) and turns them on their head. Sure, collectively they look like they’re auditioning to be the next Bond villain – when they talk about killing, they smile, they chuckle – but they’re a lot more pragmatic than you’d expect. And their opinions on the illegal settlements, the religious zealots who drive policy in so many areas, and the occupied territories are just not what you’d expect. That director Dror Moreh got any of the surviving former heads, let alone all of them, to talk at all is amazing. What he got them to say makes this one of the most remarkable documentaries you’re ever likely to see.

The Gatekeepers – at Amazon



Spring Breakers (Universal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD/download)

At 40, Harmony Korine is possibly getting a little old in the tooth for a teen shenanigans films. But boldly going where someone else should probably have gone before he gives us a film about the spring break phenomenon, when girls chug beer until they feel compelled to expose their breasts to the health-giving rays of the Mexican sun. The guys meanwhile, on this showing at least, seem content to grab their crotches through their pants, the international sign of horndoggery. Against this background of booze, bongs and foam parties Korine sets up a story about four girls of pretty much unassailable hotness getting into bikinis for a spring break holiday gone bad. Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (Harmony’s wife) are the foursome, James Franco (with metal teeth and corn rows) is the gangster they get into bed with (do I mean that literally? No spoilers.). Korine tells the tale of wannabe bad girls through an impressionistic camera, swoozy lens choices, acid coloured backgrounds and lots of improv, some of which works OK, some not so well. Is it even faintly credible? It is not. But the girls look nice, Mexico looks great, Korine gives us lots of shots of real spring breakers doing their thang. It almost adds up to something.

Spring Breakers – at Amazon



The Place Beyond the Pines (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Hands up who’s a bit sick of Ryan Gosling? He’s really overdoing the Steve McQueen this time out, all ducking head movements, glances to the ground, odd pauses. It must be the Drive legacy. If you are bit over the whole Gosling thing, don’t worry, he’s not in this strangely old fashioned drama too long. It’s a generation-hopping meditation on the sins of the father being visited on the son, with Gosling (you know, OK) and Bradley Cooper (pretty damn good) as guys whose weaknesses and bad choices ripple down the years. Eva Mendes, as Gosling’s waitress squeeze, deserves a special mention since she’s particularly good here, doing a lot more than just standing around looking like Eva Mendes. And so does Dane DeHaan, putting in a “watch this face” turn as Gosling’s son.

The Place Beyond the Pines – at Amazon



Evil Dead (StudioCanal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

The seminal 1981 original was a chamber piece. This 2013 remake is a full double orchestra job, a tale of satanic possession, vaginal intromission by vegetation, chainsawing, demon voices, bloodletting on a grand scale and death, death death. The SFX team are pretty accomplished and director Fede Alvarez even manages to squeeze plot development out of the gruesome scenes, which are very well done. To the point where the bits in between feel a bit, you know, light. Top marks, a good horror, though it never really got me in the vitals, where they’re meant to.

Evil Dead – at Amazon



Papadopoulos and Sons (101 Films, cert 15, DVD)

A frustrating game of two halves with this British comedy marked out by exquisite acting, particularly by Stephen Dillane. The first half is a succession of beautifully written and played scenes following an immigrant-done-good as he realises his empire has hit the skids in the financial meltdown. The interplay between family, his cocksure financial advisers, his wise housekeeper (Selina Cadell), and finally his wayward brother (Georges Corraface) are all right on the button. Then the second half kicks off, during which Mr Big has to go back and re-open the fish and chip shop that was the basis of his fortune all those years before, and things start to wander a touch. It’s still good, it’s still nice, but it’s in need of some Richard Curtis script tinkering to wind all the separate elements already mentioned – plus Greek/Turkish rivalry, plus romance, plus father/son bonding, plus brother/brother rehabilitation – into a satisfying package.

Papadopoulos and Sons – at Amazon



The Sun in a Net (Second Run, cert 15, DVD)

From the squeaking, jazzy electronica of its opening and the shots of a forest of rooftop TV aerials, it’s clear there’s something experimental going on with this Czechoslovak film from 1962. It’s credited with breaking the stranglehold of socialist realism in the country and hustling the first chink of what looks very much like western propaganda past the censors. Telling the story of Fajolo (Marián Bielik), a young East European with hip sunglasses and a transistor radio – the harbinger of what is to come – it follows this cool youth through a summer of romance with two women and a stint on a collective farm, where Stanislav Szomolányi’s cinematography shifts abruptly and adeptly from angular expressionism into the sort of formalism beloved of Stalin – how hard those comrades work! how beautiful is the corn! A striking film, then, an interesting one too, futuristic kitchen sink, East Bloc-style.

The Sun in a Net – at Amazon



The Seasoning House (Kaleidoscope, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Sean Pertwee plays a nasty warlord being given the runaround by a deaf girl in a Balkan whorehouse in a gory British horror whose elements are at odds with each other. It’s a horror film, set in a grim place where grim things happen to blameless girls – one unfortunate with an already broken pelvis is literally fucked to death, for instance. You can see that the production design team have been busy at work daubing the walls with all manner of blood and excreta and whatever. Only for the cinematographer to undo all the mood setting by cast and crew by bathing everything in beautiful light – it streams through the boarded up windows, along corridors, it is truly gorgeous. Someone, director Paul Hyett I suppose, should have had a word.

The Seasoning House – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2013

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold



Based on the breakthrough novel by former spy John Le Carré, shot in black and white to suggest that espionage is unglamorous, dirty work and starring a hollowed out Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is as far from James Bond as it’s possible to get – further, even than Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer of the Ipcress File. Telling the story of a jaded spy who is busted to a desk job in London and then recruited by East German intelligence – or that’s what they think – it’s a bleak marvel, as redolent of the drab side of the 1960s as the smell of a wet duffel coat. Martin Ritt directs, and you’d not guess from the portrait painted of life behind the Iron Curtain that he’d been blacklisted in the US, for supposedly having Communist sympathies. Mind you, the picture he paints of life in Britain, just emerging from economic lockdown after going broke fighting the Nazis, is hardly sympathetic either.

Though critically rated, the film did not do overly well at the box office, the public being still in the first flush of love with 007 and finding the lack of car chases, gadgets and no-strings sex something of a letdown. And Ritt’s determination to keep the boomy theatrics out of the performances by Burton and his co-stars (including Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner and Peter Van Eyck) probably didn’t help sell it to the glamour-hungry either.

Not everyone loves this film. Some find it too dark, too grey. But in its depiction of an almost heretical character – the spy who seems ambivalent towards his country – it takes a type established by Graham Greene and adds several dollops of bleak. Le Carré, Ritt and Burton know exactly what they’re about, and they’re all facing in exactly the same direction.




Trivia hounds might like to note that the film also features the first screen appearance of Le Carré’s most famous creation, George Smiley (played here by Rupert Davies), who’d go on to be played in later films by James Mason, Denholm Elliott, Alec Guinness and, most recently by Gary Oldman.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


The Spy Who Came In from the Cold – at Amazon