10 February 2014-02-10

James McAvoy builds bridges in the community in Filth

Out in the UK this week


Filth (Lionsgate, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

An adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about a member of her majesty’s constabulary – aka the Filth – and his glorious, drug-fuelled, wretched, sweary stumble towards the abyss. For anyone who has only seen James McAvoy as a lean-limbed X-Man superhero this badger-rough portrayal of a whisky-breathed Scottish cop will be a revelation. As it will for anyone not used to Welsh’s basic MO (see Trainspotting). Filth is a real film of two halves. There’s a big, chest-beating and vividly debauched Rabelaisian part one – with McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson smarter, faster, more aggressive than any of his more politically correct fellows. But after the party of scamming, shagging, drugging and boozing comes the hangover, which is where director Jon S Baird struggles slightly to keep up the energy and wit as Robertson suffers payback for his monstrousness. Don’t be put off though, it’s well worth it for the obnoxiously funny and much longer first part and the cast has real breadth and depth – Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, loads and loads more.

Filth – at Amazon



Captain Phillips (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

I saw A Hijacking last year – a Danish film about a container ship hijacked by mad-eyed Somali pirates – and the temptation with this American film about a container ship hijacked by mad-eyed Somali pirates is to compare the two. So let’s not. Instead I’ll say that Captain Phillips is a tense, nerve-wracking film that reminds us how remarkable Tom Hanks is (he’s the titular captain), able to combine seeming opposites – the usual everyman qualities that Hanks is famous for with the stickler, broom-up-ass rigidity of this character he’s playing. Apart from Hanks, three things are really notable about this big budget number – that someone has seen Contraband (or the Icelandic original, Reykjavik-Rotterdam) and has realised what a fascinating warren-like location a container ship is for a thriller; that whoever is hiring guys to do pirate turns is really hitting the mark (the Somalis in both this and A Hijacking are entirely believable and terrifying); and that the decision to hire director Paul Greengrass was a good one, except that the back half of the film appears to have been re-written to add more Bourne-style “get me the President” dialogue and procedural hoo-hah, and Hanks and the Somalis are so good that the film really doesn’t need it. As for the “don’t fuck with the USA” finish, hello Hollywood.

Captain Phillips – at Amazon



Seduced and Abandoned (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

So what we have here is old mates actor Alec Baldwin and director James Toback schmoozing their way around Cannes trying to finance a remake of Last Tango in Paris set in Iraq and called Last Tango in Tikrit. Ostensibly. In fact the whole thing is a feint, a ploy to talk to the people who actually matter in the movies – the money men – plus a few name directors (Scorsese, Coppola, Polanski, Bertolucci) and a few A-list stars about the business of making movies. And it works excellently, because both guys have made their name, have nothing to prove and have enough self-respect not to kiss ass. They’re having fun. And they actually know the people they’re talking to. So we actually get interviews with actors – Ryan Gosling, James Caan and Jessica Chastain notably – that aren’t pre-digested PR guff, Gosling being particularly insightful about the process of acting, Caan fatalistic about the fact that his best days are behind him, Chastain on how reliant she is on directors. The money men are less refined but more self-contained, most of them “what can I say” Hollywood Jewish guys of a certain age who are courteous but dismissive of Baldwin’s chances of opening a film (he’s too TV) or of the film’s ability to raise finance if Neve Campbell remains as the star (we can throw her under a bus, muses one money guy, only half-jokingly). At the end, Toback, who is no spring chicken himself, asks everyone – stars, directors, producers – about their thoughts on dying. It’s a wild card moment in a film that has veered wildly between mock-doc, semi-serious exposé, fan-fiction and gossip sheet, and been entirely entertaining at every turn.

Seduced and Abandoned – at Amazon




How I Live Now (E One, cert 15, DVD)

Actress-of-the-moment Saoirse Ronan’s roster of self-absorbed characters swells by one with her portrayal of a moody, withdrawn and almost entirely up-herself American who pitches up in the sort of rural bohemian middle-class family of Land Rovers, dogs and long bracing walks that Richard Curtis would recognise. And just as she is slowly learning to uncoil a little, enjoy the sun-dappled bucolic idyll, easy-going life and the attentions of her handsome cousin (George MacKay), this up-till-now beautifully drawn drama throws a wrench in the works with a nuclear explosion that puts the entire country onto a war footing, martial law, forced labour, and so on. And oddly it’s around this point that director Kevin Macdonald – whose My Enemy’s Enemy, The Last King of Scotland and even The Eagle show that he’s no stranger to films with a martial slant – loses control of his material. Things suddenly start moving at bewildering speed – she’s in the family home, hauled off by the military, billeted with some folks we never meet, escaped, and on it goes, none of it registering or meaning anything until what is clearly a movie for young adults that’s been given the wrong certificate (that 15 is mysterious, but this isn’t the place to discuss it) dribbles to a “and that’s how I live now” pffft.

How I Live Now – at Amazon




Le Week-End (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The last of a trio of film written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell which all deal with love as it affects older folk. In The Mother ageing Anne Reid was taken in rough Chatterley-esque manner by young buck Daniel Craig. In Venus, old goat Peter O’Toole gazed impotently at the tender flesh of cocktease Jodie Whittaker. This time it’s oldie meets oldie as Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan head off to Paris for a weekend spent recapturing the heady days of their youth, a time when they didn’t take each other for granted or bitch all the time. “Can I touch you?” asks Broadbent dolefully. “What for?” replies Duncan in the half-teasing, half-reproachful tone she uses to control his boisterousness throughout. An actorly film, which isn’t to say it isn’t well observed by Kureishi, who is now old enough to be writing about relationships of his own that have hit a kind of coping, 12-step stasis. And though it threatens to continue just like this – he advances, she repels – Kureishi saves two redeeming scenes right for the end. One, at a party thrown by mad old roué Jeff Goldblum (doing his bug-eyed Goldblum thing) when Broadbent blows a fuse spectacularly. Two, the final scene, when it’s revealed that long journeys make for deep relationships. A happy ending to a journey worth taking.

Le Week-End – at Amazon



Enough Said (Fox, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/DTO)

Like The Hours recently, a decent thriller impossible to watch without awareness of the fact that Paul Walker was now dead, the adult romance Enough Said is full of the “what ifs” of James Gandolfini, who plays a divorced slob who starts up a relationship with a masseuse (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He’s a beautiful sad presence in a film that’s actually really all about her – what the masseuse doesn’t realise instantly is that another of her clients, karmic though poisonous poet Catherine Keener is the man’s ex wife, and that the slob Keener keeps bad-mouthing is none other than… you guessed it. But it’s when the penny does drops and the masseuse chooses to stay shtumm that things get interesting. In some hands this would be the starting point for farce, but with Nicole Holofcener as writer and director – see Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money – the territory is more your angst-filled middle class semi-comedy complete with trademark Holofcener scene set in a restaurant where characters drink wine and laugh showily while a subtext ricochets around the room. Look for sighs rather than laughs and you won’t be disappointed, and if Louis-Dreyfus never quite escapes from an acting style that might be called Seinfeld Declamatory, Gandolfini is usually on hand to show her quietly how it’s done.

Enough Said – at Amazon



Prince Avalanche (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two guys who paint lines on a remote road, spend all their time in each other’s company and fill up the long stretches of the day with blank silence, or conversations about stuff that’s profoundly inane, or vice versa. David Gordon Green’s latest film is Waiting for Godot, American style, in other words. Rudd and Hirsch gimp gamely as the two numbnuts stuck on the road to nowhere, with only the odd intervention by an old truck driver who hands out a shit-talking bunch of wise-assery along with the moonshine, and is an absurdist god figure if there ever was one. Rudd gets the best end of it as the tortured almost-bright boss, with Hirsch coming across as a Jack Black-lite character of doofus amiability. It’s probably the nearest thing George Washington, his debut, that Green has made and Prince Avalanche has similar 1970s visuals by DP Tim Orr – lens flare, sideways light, chickens running about. Green’s inclusion of nature itself as an almost present character is another Washington echo, as is the faint feeling that there’s some missing ingredient that is keeping it from greatness.

Prince Avalanche – at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2014


Savion Glover and Tyheesha Collins in Bamboozled


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



6 February



The first minstrel show, 1843

On this day in 1843, the Virginia Minstrels led by Dan Emmett became the first full-length black minstrel show in the USA.

They’d tested and previewed the show at other venues but it was on 6 February that the show opened at the Bowery Amphitheater New York.

The show had a three-act structure – four guys sitting in a semi-circle, singing songs, telling jokes and just generally being entertaining; followed by a front-of-curtain variety segment; finishing off with a spoof/skit/satire piece.

Minstrelsy goes back as far as you care to look – to the medieval bards of Europe or the griots of West Africa at least – though the American version is complicated by the fact that it was white people performing in blackface who seem to have originated the first shows, before black people in blackface took over.

The first genuinely American form of theatrical entertainment, it was wildly popular both at home and abroad, with all classes of people, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Theatre chains opened catering specifically to minstrel shows.

Slavery was always in there somewhere, overtly or covertly, especially as abolitionism and later Civil War were dividing the country. Minstrel shows are often criticised now as offering little more than unthinkingly buffoonish, non-threatening, compliant black stereotypes – Sambo, Uncle Tom, Mammy etc – but the same criticisms were being made back then, along with another familiar complaint: that the songs, speech and entertainment on display lacked real authenticity.

However, for the performers concerned, some of whom did what they could to advance the cause of freedom and equality with the tools they had to hand, the minstrel shows meant a living wage, and it undoubtedly opened the door to mainstream showbiz for African Americans, as it also opened American entertainment, in a mostly pre-movie age, up to the world.




Bamboozled (2000, dir: Spike Lee)

Spike Lee charges in where nobody else dared go, in what is one of his best films, a bizarre comedy about black TV executive Pierre Delacroix (an excellent Damon Wayans) who, frustrated by the constant rejection of his ideas (they’re “too white”), decides not to quit but instead get himself sacked – the severance package beckons.

So he comes up with the most outrageous idea he can think of. It’s a “coon show”, his words, called Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show.

It will star two homeless black guys he passes on the street every morning, now renamed Mantan and Sleep’n Eat, and it’ll be set in a watermelon patch in Old Alabamy.

But, in a twist borrowed from Mel Brooks’s The Producers, Delacroix’s minstrel show is a hit and he now has to serve up extreme racist material as entertainment week in, week out.

Bamboozled isn’t the sort of film that floats every boat – it isn’t subtle, for a start, and its message has been diluted slightly by time. But it does make its point – that for all our holier-than-yesterday posturing, black people are still working the old minstrel stereotypes, appearing on TV and movies in comedies but rarely fronting serious dramas, and playing up to the negative image of the gangsta rap video, or so says Spike Lee in no uncertain terms.

Why it works is because it is so fearless and feels as if it’s been composed of the sort of outraged stories black performers share when they’re in a bitching mood. In fact it’s falling over itself with anger at times, and towards the end the whole thing does start to collapse into melodrama.

Up until then though it’s been a series of “can he say that?” remarks spun together to make the point that black people are so tied up in knots by political correctness, black consciousness, history, racism and the constant demands for positive representation that they’ve no idea how to do the right thing (to borrow a phrase).

They’re bamboozled, in fact, a word Lee has possibly borrowed from a Malcolm X speech (which also turned up in Lee’s own film of the man).



Why Watch?


  • A film that really takes no prisoners
  • Lee shoots it all on digital, giving it that authentic Sunset Beach TV look
  • The talented cast includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Mos Def and Michael Rapaport
  • Pungent cameos from Al Sharpton, Mira Sorvino and Matthew Modine


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Bamboozled – at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate