16 December 2013-12-16

Emma Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter and Jason Sudeikis in We're the Millers

Out in the UK this week




We’re the Millers (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Having turned up in small roles in good films (say, Friends with Money), in big roles in bad films (The Bounty Hunter), Jennifer Aniston finally makes a film in which she is a star and it is good and funny. She plays the poledancer pretending to be married to smalltime weed seller Jason Sudeikis, so they can smuggle a shitload of marijuana over from Mexico into the US, posing as an average family riding around in an RV. Along for the ride (and a cut of the cash) are street hustler Emma Roberts and dweeb Will Poulter. It’s basically your “gang of self-interested assholes become a loving unit” drama and most of the best jokes are about the distance between the roles they’re playing and the people the “Millers” really are – so Aniston saying “suck a dick” while smiling like she’s Mrs Perfect. If there’s a problem to the film it’s that as the “Millers” start to become emotionally connected – if that is a spoiler then you really haven’t ever seen a Hollywood film, have you? – the entire basis for the comedy has been negated, but by that time there are a whole load of banditos and other sons of bitches on the Millers’ tail and things are rolling towards the end anyway. Don’t dwell too long on the “I’ve still got it” scene in which Aniston does some actual erotic dancing – it’s painfully embarrassing. Instead enjoy her and Sudeikis’s ability to milk a line for laughs.

We’re the Millers – at Amazon




Child’s Pose (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)

Another great film from Romania, Child’s Pose is all about a scheming mother trying to get her son off the charge of killing a child in his car. Whether he was drunk, or on the phone, or driving too fast, or whatever, is immaterial, what’s fascinating about this film is watching a horrible woman trying to pull the levers of corrupt power – she has money, and connections – while her even more horrible, sullen 30something son behaves like an overgrown kid, all expectation and appalling passivity. It is a brilliant attack on modern attitudes regardless of what country you’re from, and a vivid portrait of a country waist deep in corruption and unable to bridge the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

Child’s Pose – at Amazon




The Long Goodbye (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Of a piece with Chinatown, this 1970s detective noir with deliberate use of 1940s Los Angeles locations stars Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s white-knight detective Philip Marlowe. The plot is typical Chandler skimpiness, just enough to propel Marlowe from one laconic set piece to the next. Some of these contain Nina Von Pallandt and Sterling Hayden (another 1940s reminder) as a blowsy wife and alcoholic Hemingway-esque writer husband who have hired Marlowe. Others contain Jim Boulton as Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox, who either has or hasn’t killed his own wife and is now either living in Mexico or is dead somewhere. It barely matters what the plot is, since the film is essentially an opportunity for Marlowe to crack wise (and Gould to occasionally corpse as he’s doing it). If the foreground is all Chandler (and adapter Leigh Brackett), the background is pure Altman and is a tableau vivant of 1970s life – the girls who live next door to Marlowe, their constant drug use, their frequent nakedness, all being an amusing comment on where LA’s head was back then. It is now, as it always was, a strangely inconsequential film, though it remains a beautiful reminder of a bygone age, and of Gould at a time when he had the world at his feet. What the hell happened there?

The Long Goodbye – at Amazon




The Vicious Kind (Moviolla, cert 15, DVD)

If Adam Scott has made his way by playing a series of effete if not gay young men, he seems determined to prove he can play the whore-mongering, angry, all-male kind of guy in this unusual drama which takes the structure of the Hollywood romance and then messes with it. Scott is Caleb, the rancid piece of work who reluctantly turns up to help his brother Peter (Alex Frost) out of a tight fix, catches sight of his girl (Brittany Snow) and is immediately smitten. What sort of a girl is Emma though? The nice, decent girl that the Peter believes she is? Or is she more the dirty slut that Caleb tells her she is? And what sort of a way is that to speak to your brother’s girlfriend, or to woo a woman? Things carry on pretty much in this sort of vein – horrible Caleb, nice Peter, virgin/whore Emma – right through to the entirely satisfying end of this small but perfectly formed film that is really enhanced by the acting of all concerned. Scott is predictably excellent, and there’s JK Simmons playing the boys’ dad with his usual panache. But it is Brittany Snow who is on eye-opening form as the will she/won’t she Emma.

The Vicious Kind – at Amazon




Pandora’s Promise (November Films, cert 12, DVD)

Once upon a time all environmentalists were anti-nuclear. Now they seem, all of them, to be pro. What happened? Robert Stone’s documentary sets out to tell us, and asks those who have switched from one side to the other to explain themselves. So we have Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalogue fame; Gwyneth Craves, author and protester; Mark Lynas, the “hard-core activist”. And so on, a whole stream of talking heads who in essence make the following argument – nuclear power is bad, but global warming is worse, so we must accept nuclear power (ancillary corollary – renewables can’t plug the gap). What this long and insufficiently argued film then does is make this point again and again, in between giving us a history of nuclear energy and the incidental prediction that the fast breeder reactor will be our saviour. Unsatisfying and badly structured though it is, Pandora’s Promise is full of fascinating stuff – such as the community that is now living back around the Chernobyl plant, where the Geiger counter is registering radiation levels lower than the background radiation levels in plenty of non-nuclearised parts of the world. Or the fact that half of the US’s power generation by nuclear power is from the reprocessing of old USSR warheads. But the main impression that the documentary gives, sadly, is that the environmentalists were wrong in the first place – unscientific and over-emotional in their conclusions that “nuclear must be bad”. And that they’re wrong again now. And I don’t think Stone was setting out to say that at all.

Pandora’s Promise – at Amazon




11.6 (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)

I’ll watch anything with François Cluzet in, a French actor as capable of playing serious drama as he is at comedy (see Untouchable). Here he’s at his most intense as Toni Musulin, the security guard who stole €11.6 million in France’s “crime of the century”. It’s a true story – Musulin is still in prison as I write – turned into a slow-burn drama which sticks close to the facts. And which comes with a healthy, if badly bolted on, class-warfare subtext – Toni and his fellow minimum-wage security guards are being badly dicked about by their corner-cutting bosses, hence Toni’s elevation to national-hero status when he simply drove off with the van full of the Banque de France money he was meant to be looking after. It also helped that no one was in love with the banks when the modern-day Robin Hood pulled his uniquely simple heist in 2009. Muted to the point, occasionally, of stasis, this is an unusual drama that asks us to guess the exact motivation for the Ferrari-loving Toni, and which comes with a similarly chilled soundtrack – all post-club synths and hushed electro.

11.6 – at Amazon




When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun (Arrow, cert 15, DVD)

Here’s a documentary that tells the story of the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese, who have been there since 1949. It has a soundtrack by Philip Glass (which I think is a Glass soundtrack recycled from elsewhere) and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It has access to the Dalai Lama, notable names such as Richard Gere (laugh all you like at the “activist and humanitarian” tag but he does at least turn out for the rallies) and it gives some screen time to the opposing point of view – that Tibet belongs to China, and in any case why is everyone so keen on supporting a medieval theocracy? It’s a largely form-free affair, composed of far too many talking heads saying the same thing too often, though it does at least give air to the political debate that has gone on since the Dalai Lama embraced the “middle way” of working with China. Cultural genocide is the charge brought against China, and it seems, on the evidence presented here, to be one most people would accept. But what would a “free Tibet” run by the government now in exile do with all the Han Chinese who now live in the country – up to 70 % of inhabitants of Lhasa, the capital – many of whom were born there? Send them “home”?

When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun – at Amazon 




© Steve Morrissey 2013





Jodie Whittaker and Peter O'Toole in Venus


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



15 December



Soviet spacecraft Venera 7 lands on Venus, 1970

On this day in 1970, the Soviet Union landed a spacecraft on Venus. The Venera 7 had been launched from Earth on 17 August 1970 and arrived in the proximity of Venus nearly four months later. At this point the spacecraft began its descent, retaining the rocket that had powered it to Venus to use as a heat shield until the atmosphere was dense enough for the use of a parachute, at which point the rocket was jettisoned. At 60km up the parachute deployed, but it failed. The probe hit the surface at a speed of 16.5 metres per second (about 36mph) and was damaged. The scientists initially believed that the probe was kaput but in fact it was still transmitting data, albeit rather weakly. However, after 23 minutes it did fall silent. The only data it sent back were atmospheric readings (97% carbon dioxide) and the surface temperature (475ºC). As the name suggests, Venera was the seventh of a total of 16 probes to Venus, the first having been launched in 1961 and the last in 1984. Ten landed on Venus, the first being the ill-fated Venera 7. Other firsts included the Venera 4 (first man made device to enter the atmosphere of another planet, 1967), Venera 9 (first to return images from another planet, 1975), Venera 15 (first to perform high-resolution radar mapping of Venus, 1983). Because of the incredibly high temperatures of the surface of Venus, the life of a probe on the planet’s surface can be measured in minutes, though by the time the USSR was launching the final probes, a couple of hours had become the norm. If, like me, you find yourself astonished by your own ignorance of one of the greatest space exploration programs ever devised by humans, this website is a mine of useful information




Venus (2006, dir: Roger Michell)

What happens when an old guy fall for a young girl? Not a middle aged guy and a 20something, but a properly old man and a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter? That’s the story that Venus tells, with a great degree of subtlety and facing up to the charge that it’s in dirty old man territory. Peter O’Toole is the old guy, a man taken aback by his feelings for the gutter-mouthed great-niece of an old friend (Leslie Phillips). Jodie Whittaker plays the girl, a teenager who sucks up the warmth that the old guy is giving off, increasingly aware that it’s more than just affection, and advancing towards it because she’s been starved of love by her family. He wants sex, of course, though he’s probably too old to do it; and after a while she stops feeling disgusted and starts to realise that in fact she holds all the cards. And how she makes him sweat, and ache. This is what the bulk of the film is about, the dance around the possibility/impossibility of it all, with O’Toole laying on the pathos in great big actorly slabs – he’s playing a vain old actor, appropriately – while Whittaker does that amazing thing that great actresses can do, regularly pulling off emotional 180º about-faces to confound him, and amaze us. It’s a comedy, with dark pools. Writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell had been here before, with The Mother, the 2003 drama about an older woman (Anne Reid) and a younger man (Daniel Craig). And the duo would complete the thematic threesome about love among the wrinklies with 2013’s Le Week-End, about a married couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) raking over the embers of their passion in Paris. And in all of them Roger Michell’s ability to get credible emotion out of his actors – not that any of those names actually have a problem there either – provides an extra wallop. And in this film especially, whose subject matter is wandering perilously close to uncomfortable territory, that really helps.



Why Watch?


  • The great support cast – Leslie Phillips, Richard Griffiths, Vanessa Redgrave
  • The director of Notting Hill working with less photogenic material
  • O’Toole’s eighth Oscar nomination and his last great role
  • Because Whittaker is so good


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Venus – at Amazon