26 August 2013-08-26

Something in the Air

Out in the UK this week



Something in the Air (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

If you’ve got any interest at all in how the revolutionary moment of 1968 spawned the postmodern (ie conservative) era that followed it, Olivier Assayas’s brilliant, period-distilling drama is for you. Following a wannabe artist from the revolutionary barricades of Paris, when it was required that all personal preferences came with political justification, through the long intellectual wrangles, splits, and factionalising of what was once called the Left, we follow a young man and woman on a journey that takes them from letting it all hang out to getting a decent job and knuckling down (or not). Musically it’s a journey from The Incredible String Band to glam rock, with the soundtrack every bit as spot on as the political posturing, the clothes, the attitudes to sex and the whole damn thing. Assayas was 18 in 1971, though even before I looked that up I knew he had to have been there, smoked that, to have produced something this immersive, this appreciative of both the excesses and triumphs of a bygone age of unusual freedom.

Something in the Air – at Amazon



A Hijacking (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Films that split their narrative usually have a hard time of it but A Hijacking succeeds brilliantly. Featuring faces familiar from TV shows Borgen and The Killing, it’s about a Norwegian ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and once the pirates are on board, the drama follows two distinct tracks. Out at sea are the guys sweating it out (and the pirates do look genuinely scary – all wild-eyed and juiced on khat). Meanwhile back at base in Norway the negotiators are trying to extract the maximum number of men for the minimum amount of cash. These negotiations are what give it its power, that and the contrast between the cool, wire frames and grey heads at head office and the bearded, dirty and desperate men on board ship.

A Hijacking – at Amazon


Rebellion (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Mathieu Kassovitz is back in France, after a less than stellar time in Hollywood, with his first decent film since 1995’s La Haine, an intelligent, politically nuanced drama about a kick-ass team of hardened army specialists sent in to a far-flung French outpost to sort out a nasty kidnap situation. It’s a war film without the war, audaciously, a film with a lot of exposition that just about gets away with it, thanks to the attractive New Caledonia settings (Tahiti, actually), director Kassovitz’s urgent sense of pace plus lush cinematography and a percussive soundtrack that helps weld everything into a whole. A bit long, a touch schematic? Yes, but there’s more than enough to compensate.

Rebellion – at Amazon



Simon Killer (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

After Afterschool Antonio Campos’s edgy disaffected high school drama, we have Simon Killer, an edgy disaffected thriller set in night-time Paris and featuring an excellent performance by Brady Corbet as an immature braggart falling into a relationship with a beautiful prostitute (Mati Diop). He’s a killer, the title has told us that. But who’s he going to kill? That’s the focus of Campos’s extended tease, whose painful introspection matches that of the character of Simon himself.

Simon Killer – at Amazon



Extraction (Signature, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Fans of Inception will most likely enjoy writer/director Nir Paniry’s knock-off version, the filmic equivalent of a track suit you buy on a street market. It’s serviceable, fits pretty ok, but it’s fairly shabbily made – acting and directing both leave a bit to be desired. However Paniri does understand what shape the film should be, is a half-decent writer and his plot – scientist is injected into a criminal’s mind – has plenty going for it, throws the odd left hand turn and even manages to strike what you might call the Philip K Dick Total Recall pose in its discussion of a human being the sum of his memories, or not.

Extraction aka Extracted – at Amazon



Olympus Has Fallen (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ambling back towards form, though very slowly, director Antoine Fuqua is off his Training Day pace but knows how to keep things moving in this actioner that’s been called “Die Hard in the White House”. Gerard Butler is the Bruce Willis surrogate, a busted spook who alone can save the US president after the North Koreans invade the White House (I believe that original it was the Chinese who invaded, until someone pointed out that the Chinese now buy films like this). Fuqua stages a good tight opening, follows up with impressive scenes of attack and destruction with much in the way of facial disfigurement, blood and yowling. And then Butler arrives to save POTUS, to the sound of Wagnerian horns, the banging door, the ascending and descending pentatonics. Does he do it? What do you think? Though I wished for every second of the film that Bruce Willis were doing it. Or Jason Statham. Anyone with a hint of irony in their facial make-up. A hint of anything.

Olympus Has Fallen – at Amazon



The Land of Hope (Third Window, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A much straighter drama from Sion Sono than we’re normally used to, a companion piece to his Himizu, I suppose, following three couples in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown of 2011. Conformity and individualism are what’s under analysis as much as post-tsunami society – with those on the side of obeying the government, going along with the majority view, constantly being presented as the problem, not the solution. Dumb animals, a woman with dementia, a too-timid husband to a properly fearful pregnant wife – these are the metaphorical carriers of Sion Sono’s heavy-handed message, orchestrated to snatches of Mahler, the odd shot reminiscent of Ozu, not at all what you’d expect from an auteur most associated with his feverish Hate Trilogy. By the end things have sneaked back a bit towards what you do expect – overheated melodrama. But all in all The Land of Hope is a reminder of what a fluid, emotionally connected film-maker Sono is.

The Land of Hope – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2013





Bob Le Flambeur

The original poster for Bob Le Flambeur



If you’ve seen Frank Oz’s garbled heist movie The Score, starring Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Edward Norton, you might have asked how come three acting legends were inveigled into appearing in something so average. The answer is Bob Le Flambeur, the “one last heist” film they obviously thought they were channelling. Reeking of the late 40s but made in the 50s just as France was about to embark on the New Wave, it is the last word in Parisian chic, a mix of Gallic savoir faire, American hats and cars, dialogue drawled out the side of the mouth and jazz pouring out of radios, bars and nightclubs. Roger Duchesne plays white-haired Bob the Gambler, a retired crook with a one-armed bandit in his room, a bad debt on the roulette tables and a “one last job” idea up his sleeve. What’s different about Bob, as opposed to almost every cinematic heist merchant since, is that he’s patently a loser – not a guy who has had a bit of bad luck, like George Clooney in Ocean’s 11, but someone who wins big, then loses big, then does the whole thing again. He’s in the grip of the gambling process, believes in lady luck and all that stuff. What will be familiar will be the dry run for the heist itself, a familiar trope even in 1956, though Melville puts a new spin on it, one I won’t ruin by explaining.

Some claim Bob Le Flambeur is the first film of the French New Wave – Melville shot much of it on a handheld camera attached to a bicycle. But whereas Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and the New Wavers shot handheld for artistic reasons, Melville was doing it because he was broke, and he took pains to hide the paucity of his technical means and made his film look as slick as he could.

A lover of film noir and Americana in general, Melville had changed his name from Grumberg to honour the author of Moby Dick. His characters, Duchesne in particular, are working the same turf, collars flicked up, eyes narrowed, they’re paying homage to characters played by Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and James Cagney – bad guys, sure, but bad guys with a code of honour. Perhaps, from some angles, they were actually the good guys. Which is where we are with Bob, respected by the cops, admired by his contemporaries, regarded with awe by younger guys, who are perhaps surprised he’s even still alive. Neil Jordan took the bones of Bob Le Flambeur and remade it as The Good Thief in 2002. But even with Nick Nolte in the lead as the fascinating deadbeat it simply doesn’t get close.

© Steve Morrissey 2013



Bob Le Flambeur – at Amazon