Black Rock

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton in Black Rock



Three young women are chased around an island by three crazed ex-soldier guys in Katie Aselton’s boo-goes-there horror story which would slot nicely into the big book of feminist films if it weren’t for the gratuitous (oh come on) nudity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with god-given nakedness. But back to the film. Directed by Aselton and co-written with her partner, Mark Duplass, Black Rock takes three old schoolfriends, Aselton, Lake Bell and Katie Bosworth, sends them off to a remote island they used to visit as kids, but not before pointing out that one of the three did something bad with another of the trio’s boyfriend some years back, and that the wound is still suppurating.

Out on the island, the girls (“women” doesn’t seem quite right; “ladies” definitely not) bump into three ex-army guys, one of whom is a vague friend of a friend. But things go from uneasily friendly to extremely nasty in a short time after a bit of booze, some unwise campfire flirting with one of the soldiers, a rape attempt and retaliation in the form of a big lethal rock to the skull.

The other two guys – we have just learnt that they got dishonourable discharges for some seriously nasty shit out in Afghanistan – decides for justice in the form of death.

But I’m telling you the plot when what all you want to know about is the nudity. Well, you could say that it is justified by the story Aselton is telling, since two of the girls have swum out to a boat, failed to get into it and are now back on dry land in wet clothes and the quickest way to get warm is… take your clothes off?

Does it last long? No. Does it matter? Maybe, because though Aselton is a good actress (though her showing in The Puffy Chair is all I’m going on) I’m not sure about her as a director.

But she’s competent enough for a cat-and-mouse thriller that flirts with themes of sex, power and violence – Should women be able to cocktease for ever and get away with it? Is sex a form of power that women use over women too? – only to abandon them as the film slides into its final third.

Director Aselton moves things along briskly, gets decent “girls together” performances from her cast and knows how to squeeze atmosphere from a restless camera, minimal rig and a soundtrack of strings and washy synths.

But I’m not sure it’ll be remembered for any of those things, so much as being the film in which a female director asked her cast to get naked because the script strictly demanded it.


© Steve Morrissey 2013


Black Rock – at Amazon



A Trip to the Moon

The famous moon landing in Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon

A movie for every day of the year – a good one


1 September

Generally speaking I’m going to choose historical events rather than movie events as a peg off which to hang the Film of the Day. But today is the first one so why not make an exception?

Debut Screening by George Méliès of A Trip to the Moon, 1902

On this day in 1902, the great showman, illusionist and restless inventor George Méliès gave the first showing of Le Voyage dans la Lune. It was the Star Wars of its day and a huge international hit. If it wasn’t the first sci-fi film ever made, it was, along with the Parisian’s other films, one of the first. It can also claim to be one of the first special effects movies. And on top of that it was also the first work to be designated as a World Heritage film by Unesco.



A Trip to the Moon (1902, dir: Georges Méliès)

Méliès took the basic idea from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (a gun club shoot a spaceship at the moon) and mixed it with HG Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (when they get there they find a highly civilised society) and turned it into a 17-minute feast of colour (hand-tinted), drama and special effects. Regardless of whether or not you think it still stands up, the image of the capsule hitting the Moon square in the eye is iconic – and the capsule itself strongly prefigures Nasa’s, which wouldn’t be designed for more than 50 years. Martin Scorsese drew heavily on the story of Méliès for his 2011 film Hugo, casting Ben Kingsley as Méliès.



Why Watch?


  • Completely iconic – and Méliès’s most famous film
  • Genre movie-making, sci-fi movies and grandiose special effects films start here
  • It’s the film that sent Méliès bankrupt (after Edison copied it, made a fortune and wouldn’t pay any royalties)
  • This is what Scorsese was getting so excited about when he made Hugo


© Steve Morrissey 2013



A Trip to the Moon (restoration of the hand-tinted version) – at Amazon

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2 September 2013-09-02

Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in Gimme the Loot




Gimme the Loot (Soda, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A debut movie by writer/director Adam Leon, someone with something to say, Gimme the Loot is appropriately about two black kids (skin colour is an issue) who do a lot of talking as they wander around a present-day New York like Belmondo and Seberg once wandered through Paris in A Bout de Souffle. Do not be put off by reference to the French New Wave, I’m just trying to say Gimme the Loot is energetic, fresh, nervy, in love with the idea of youth, full of lip and very hip. Reinforcing the idea is the soundtrack – cool 60s R&B, soul, jazz. And it’s about the have-nots making up for what they don’t have with what they do have – sass, style, sex. Starring Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson, the plot has something to say too – he meets a moneyed white girl (Zoë Lescaze, excellent) and comes away short-changed, she has similar low-scale adventures, until they both meet up for what looks like an extended flirt, a tease, an introduction to the idea that they might be in love but have spent their lives so trying to verbally outgun each other that they don’t quite know how to broach the subject. What a refreshing and lovely film.


Gimme the Loot – at Amazon



Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/VOD)

I loved the first of the Star Trek reboots – Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto and the whole damn crew doing their best Shatner/Nimoy etc while JJ Abrams sculpted a throbbing space adventure from the DNA of an exhausted franchise. This time, for reasons I don’t understand, Abrams is playing to the geek gallery, not realising that geeks don’t need playing to – they’ll make phasers from chicken bones. And worse than that he’s remade The Wrath of Khan, a seriously dull film not made any better this time round by the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan – that’s more Sherlockian nodding towards the geeks. Things to love include Pine’s continuing mad Shatner impersonation, Karl Urban’s even better Bones “Are you out of your cornfed mind?” McCoy and some big money special effects sequences out in space. Much as I love Simon Pegg I don’t love the way his Mr Scott wanders off accent – he cannae take it, it seems – nor am I particularly aroused by Abrams handing out a storyline to every single one of the familiar crew members, like a movie that cost this much money was some elementary school prizegiving. Looks like this franchise is going the way of the last one.


Star Trek Into Darkness – at Amazon


Blackfish (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)

What happens when you take an “amazingly friendly” killer whale and lock it up in an oceanarium, confine it by night, force it to do stupid tricks for fish? In the case of Tilikum, the orca in Blackfish, it becomes a killer whale, literally. The brilliance of this documentary lies in the measured way that director Gabriela Cowperthwaite goes about assembling her evidence – she talks to guys who first caught orcas off the coast of California about 40 years ago, she talks to previous owners of Tilikum, who knew he was a killer, she talks a good number of ex-trainers at Seaworld Orlando, which is where Tilikum finally lost the plot and set about eating his bright, committed trainer, Dawn Brancheau. And Cowperthwaite knows how to structure drama – from 911 phone call replayed over the opening scene, when the operator is told that an orca has eaten a trainer and is simply stunned into silence, we are gripped. Moral: the animals don’t like being there, they’re not engaged in valuable scientific research – let them go.


Blackfish – at Amazon


Love Is All You Need (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The ageing populations of Western Europe need their own romantic comedies, ones that reflect the pantechnicons of baggage that come with any midlife relationship. Enter Pierce Brosnan, still in ladykilling form as a wealthy grieving widower. And from the other side the delightful (and unknown to me until now) Trine Dyrholm as a love-damaged hairdresser who has no hair, thanks to recent chemotherapy. Nice. The original title in Danish translates as The Bald Hairdresser and tells us two things – first, that the Scandinavians have a much less mimsy way with words, and second, that the film is in Danish. Even Pierce Brosnan utters the odd word in “foreign”, as the action transfers from the cool north to sun-drenched Italy, where the romantic, comedic action plays out against the prospective wedding of his son and her daughter. Subtitle-phobes needn’t worry, the film switches frequently into English and the busy action, charming performances and great support acting means you’ll hardly notice. Susanne Bier’s film is much like a wedding, in fact – not necessarily everyone’s idea of a great day out but a lot of messy chaotic fun once you’re there.


Love Is All You Need – at Amazon


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

Time to see Matthew McConaughey being acted off the screen by a pair of kids. Everyone, in fact, is outdone by the two young stars of Mud (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland – stars of the future), a kind of Huckleberry Finn meets Beasts of the Southern Wild drama set in Arkansas and revolving around a pair of lads and their relationship with some weird, though charming hobo (McConaughey), who may or may not be dangerous. Reese Witherspoon turns up, playing the charmer’s cockteasing lost love, lending the production the patina of class. And also suggesting that Mud is a movie for adults. It isn’t really, it’s for kids, the 12 certificate in the UK (PG-13 in the US) just about right for what is basically a primer in the ugly stuff that adults get up to. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose “storm’s coming” psychodrama Take Shelter is highly rated in some quarters, this is a flavoursome, folksy coming of age entertainment but at 130 minutes it’s a good 20 minutes too long.


Mud – at Amazon


What Doesn’t Kill You (Signature, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A movie that’s been sitting on the shelf since 2008, presumably because there were just too many Goodfella wannabe movies lining up for release. Which is what this is, being about two guys from Boston who become very small cogs in a low-rent local gangster operation – extortion, mostly – and what happens to them. So, in plot terms, nothing to see here. The acting is worth a watch though, since it’s Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo, each goading the other to be better (and succeeding) and the MO is interesting too, since what we’re mostly doing is following these two dim bulbs as they walk and talk (mumble, in fact, subtitles useful) around the neighbourhood, edging further and further into Palookaville.


What Doesn’t Kill You – at Amazon


The Little Mermaid (Disney, cert U, Blu-ray)

1989’s The Little Mermaid is seen as marking the beginning of Disney’s renaissance, though there have been a few of those. To my aged eyes it has all the hallmarks of everything that’s wrong with Disney – the interchangeable bland handsome prince, the whining heroine who wants, how she wants, something (legs, in this case), the comedy sidekick animals, which, in The Little Mermaid, every single main character is equipped with. And Alan Menken’s songs (this was his first Disney), which might work on Broadway, where singing to the back of the room is a necessity, but just seem a bit declamatory and box-tickingly diverse in their musical styles. All that apart, there are some lovely visual sequences in here, which mostly happen when the story is shunted into the background and the animation teams are issued with a “vamp moodily” instruction, at which point the Disney of old – of the forest in Snow White, the flying elephants of Dumbo – comes to the fore. The good stuff. I can’t say much about the restoration, it looks fine, bright and crisp – does old-fashioned 2D animation really need that much restoration? Will the target audience, under 10s, really care?


The Little Mermaid – at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2013