11 August 2014-08-11

Anna Walton in Soulmate



Out in the UK This Week




The Raid 2 (E One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Gareth Evans’s sequel picks up exactly where the first film ended – after the relentless and entirely exciting display of pencak silat martial arts that was the alpha and omega of The Raid (aka Raid: Redemption) – as if to suggest we’re about to get more of the same. In fact we’re not. And at times over the next 150 minutes, following Iko Uwais as a cop deep undercover, Evans had me shaking my head in sorrow. Yes, there are some mighty fine displays of brilliantly choreographed fighting by Uwais. And the final 45 minutes is one long orgy of pugilistic brilliance. But the Godfather II plot? You really want to do this? Yes, Evans does, with long, meandering scenes in which the bad guy dad and his bad guy son wrangle for control of the bad guy empire. I could not care less. Let’s have more of the girl with the two hammers. Show me that bit again where a man gets a metal baseball bat in his face, his assailant lets go of the bat, and it stays fixed in his gaping maw as he topples to the ground. The film is still awesome, don’t get me wrong, but to the boosters who reckon it’s better than the first film – get a job in PR.

The Raid 2 – at Amazon




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

I had also heard a lot about this film by John Michael McDonagh, about an Irish priest told in confession by a person unknown that he is going to be killed in a week’s time, and he should get used to the idea and say his farewells. Early on it’s a beautifully connected series of mini-dramas, with Gleeson’s Father James going about his parish, meeting one person after another, in scenes that crackle with life. But as it goes on Calvary starts to descend into a series of music-hall sketches, with the locals all behaving increasingly Oirishly, the comedy sitting very ill on a drama that’s very bleak indeed. And yet it works. I think it’s down to Gleeson, whose face is a blank prayer as he’s being insulted and abused in a town that would once have accorded a man of the cloth some respect. This is no kiddie-fiddling priest but a good man in a bad world. It’s not called Calvary for nothing. A poignant pleasure.

Calvary – at Amazon




The Unknown Known (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)

Neocon Donald Rumsfeld obviously watched Errol Morris’s The Fog of War – Morris’s great, wide-ranging interview with US former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara – and thought “I want a bit of that.” “That” being a platform to explain himself. Having been George W Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld is to many people one of the most reprehensible modern politicians, after all. Morris has given him his platform and the results are fascinating, and not at all what you expect; not what I expected anyway. For a start I had no idea Rumsfeld had been in a prominent political position since the Nixon era (“Rummy… he’s a ruthless little bastard” was Nixon’s assessment, according to the tapes). Morris uses the device of taking Rumsfeld’s snowflakes – the thousands and thousands of memos Rumsfeld would write exploring, justifying, bollocking – as prompts for his interview. And Rumsfeld is happy to talk about all of it – Vietnam; how he was next to Ford when someone tried to kill him; meeting Sadam Hussein; his rivalry with George Bush Sr; putting down Condoleezza Rice; torture in Guantanamo Bay. And he’s unapologetic – “all the easy decisions are made down below” he says when asked how he knows when he’s gone too far. Or in other words, “You try doing the job and see if you don’t get some things wrong.” It’s tempting to say that Morris doesn’t get a glove on Rumsfeld. If he does it’s a glancing blow. I came away from this with a lot more respect for this wily old fox, and a lot less respect for the White House press corps, who seem to roll over whenever a politician comes along and pulls the old “here’s me just speaking off the cuff” routine. As we see in footage of press conferences which Morris drops in at key moments, nothing Rumsfeld says is off the cuff, it just looks that way.

The Unknown Known – at Amazon




Under the Rainbow (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)

If the fairy tale is the most guileful of the narrative forms, and farce the most simple (or vice versa), how about trying to put them together? That seems to be the idea behind this incredibly French French film about two families who increasingly interact. On one side we have the moneyed Laura (Agathe Bonitzer), a daydreamer who believes that one day her prince will come. On the other hardscrabble grump Jean-Pierre Bacri, who has his girlfriend and her two kids camping uneasily in his house while his son Sandro, unbeknown to him, is making eyes at the lovely Laura. Enter a man called Maxime Wolf (Benjamin Biolay), who makes a move on Laura as she is walking through the woods, and a very odd twin-track Red Riding Hood story starts to play out, complete with wicked stepmothers, good fairies, woodsmen, and so on, all dressed up like modern bourgeois urbanites. Pinging between the genres like a demented pinball, this is a rather clever film that doesn’t work on an emotional level – it would be surprising if it did. But it does on an intellectual level, as the gears crunch, then crunch again and again. And the acting, as you expect with anything that has the name of Bacri (and director Agnès Jaoui) on it, that’s exquisite.

Under the Rainbow – at Amazon




Soulmate (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

A fragile woman goes off to Wales to stay on her own in a cottage with a bit of local history. Before you can say “1970s Hammer movie” there are sounds coming from the attic, which the creepy local couple who seem too interested in her are explaining away as mice, or bats. Of course it’s a ghost. The ghost of quite a nice looking man who soon starts getting chummy. Don’t get too excited… things kind of peter out in this strange homage to British horror that only lacks a local squire to tick all the boxes. Anna Walton is rather good as the woman – a needy sexuality and emotional nakedness in her face, her awkwardnesses more down to director Axelle Carolyn’s decision to make her play to the camera, not her fellow players. But, hey, that was the Hammer way too – “The church refused him a Christian burial” and all that. Enjoy with a Party Seven and a mushroom vol au vent.

Soulmate – at Amazon




Divergent (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Let’s get this out of the way quickly. This is an entirely unremarkable Hunger Games wannabe starring Shailene Woodley as the young woman with hidden gifts in a totalitarian futureworld. Its biggest fault is that it’s not really a film at all: it’s a filmed book. In the way of all these things (Twilight included) the producers, reacting in advance to the online chaff if every bit of Veronica Roth’s original novel isn’t in there somehow, feel duty bound to cram everything in, whether it’s filmic or not. So let’s not blame director Neil Burger, whose Limitless shows he can make an effective film. Woodley was great in The Descendants but is heroically miscast here as she makes the “Katniss arc” of nice young girl to warrior queen, while Theo James plays her tough military love interest as if just off the podium at a gay disco. The heavy handed references to the Holocaust don’t add weight either, they just make everyone involved look like a bunch of cheap chisellers. But most of all, Divergent is just dull.

Divergent – at Amazon




Muppets Most Wanted (Disney, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

And again, quickly. Henson and the Muppet empire took a wrong turn when they elevated Kermit and Miss Piggy to king and queen of the Muppets. Sure, Kermit is the MC of the show within the show that The Muppet Show started out being. And Miss Piggy believes she is the star of that show – though she was originally sold as very ripe ham and nothing more. But once the Swedish chef, and Pigs in Space, and the chickens, and Fozzy Bear, and Crazy Animal, and Waldorf and Statler and… insert your own favourite here… started being demoted to walk-ons while the plot became entirely Kermi-centric, the whole thing lost its way. So, the plot here: an evil dead ringer for Kermit plans an audacious heist using the touring Muppets show as cover, helped by his henchman Ricky Gervais (if everyone hates you, you might as well play a bad guy). Will the Muppets notice that they have the wrong Kermit in time? In the film’s favour: there are some good song-and-dance numbers, the guest-star cameos are epic (Ray Liotta, Toby Jones, Tina Fey, Jemaine Clement, Danny Trejo, Christoph Waltz, Tom Hiddleston are only the beginning of it) and Ty Burrell was amusing as a Clouseau-esque comedy cop. But the Muppets won’t get back on track until its Disney owners realise it’s an ensemble affair, they ditch the sentimentality and put the dull, braying Miss Piggy back in her box.

Muppets Most Wanted – at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2014




Our Daily Bread

On the pig production line in Our Daily Bread


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



10 August


Henri Nestlé born, 1814

On this day in 1814, Henri Nestlé was born, as Heinrich Nestle, in Frankfurt am Rhein, Germany. His father was a glazier and the business had been passed down the family line for five generations at least. Heinrich trained and qualified as a pharmacist, changing his name to Henri Nestlé on the way, because he was now living in a French-speaking part of Switzerland and wanted to fit in. In 1843, he bought his way into a company involved in the synthesis of oil from rape seed. It also produced alcoholic drinks, vinegar, mineral waters and soda. By 1857, he had switched his attention to fertiliser and gas for lighting. Nestlé was by now wealthy, but the foundation of his fortune was the baby milk formula he came up with in the mid 1860s, aimed at women who weren’t able to breast feed, in towns where a supply of fresh milk was difficult and infant mortality rates were high. His formula consisted of cow’s milk mixed with sugar and flour. It was an immediate success at home and all over Europe, eventually the world. Though Nestlé sold his company in 1875 and devoted his life to philanthropy, the company that bore his name went on to become the biggest food conglomerate in the world. He and his wife had no children.




Our Daily Bread (2005, dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter)

Some films have universal relevance. We all eat, and so Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s documentary about the way our food is produced on a mass scale should stir at least the beginnings of an interest in anyone who watches it. One thing is certain: the dehumanised production lines and the sight of mechanised modern food production is unlikely to pique the appetite. Geyrhalter shows us vast polytunnels, abattoirs of robotic mass slaughter, football fields of salad, all shot without voiceover, usually with a static camera, with no identifiers as to which company is involved. It’s a tableau of the way we live now – we’re all implicated in this ugly/impressive agri-business.
There are lines of dead pigs being ripped open by a machine that deguts them, cows entering another machine that kills them and then neatly flips them over, salmon being pumped through a vast hose to yet another machine that whips out their innards, just like that.
As I said, no names are named, and no fingers are pointed. This is not a film designed to stir righteous anger but to document, and possibly to inspire awe, as its unblinking eye ranges from field to factory, its images precisely framed, shot on hi-def so we catch the details. The odd bit of human interaction is telling: the woman whose job is to catch the chickens who have somehow survived their appointment with the slaughter room and despatches them with a quick cut to the neck. This, of course, is how it used to be done before the machines moved in. Was it worse? More humane? Hardly.
The soundtrack is all clanks and hums, the odd snatch of dialogue in the background from whichever migrant worker is doing whatever unspeakable job, echoes from the sterile, bloody places. And then a “pillow shot”, of a worker quietly enjoying a sandwich in a break, filling undoubtedly the product of some food factory too. And then on to the production of sunflower oil, from vast fields of beauty, with a yellow plane lazily droning over the top, spraying away. And then back to the animal slaughter, a baby calf being cut from its mother, vast acreages of broccoli, the production of steaks, all of it the reason why food prices in the western world have been falling for most of our lifetimes.
Geyrhalter has an eye for the picturesque, that’s the irony, and one for framing and focus, constantly drawing our eye to the telling detail, or making a more general point that the telling detail is that there is no telling detail.
Do we need 90 minutes of this? Probably not. But the power of it is undeniable, and the lack of a polemicizing voiceover leaves us to come to our own conclusion. This is either remarkable evidence of human ingenuity, or a sign that we’ve lost the plot entirely. Food for thought.



Why Watch?


  • Remarkable sights
  • It’s beautiful, amazingly
  • The access
  • Some scenes will probably stay with you for ever


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Our Daily Bread – Watch it now at Amazon