30 March 2015-03-30

Matthew McConaughey as astronaut Cooper in Interstellar

 

Out in the UK This Week

 

Interstellar (Warner, cert 12)

I wasn’t a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films – too long, too much yak, humourless, over-insistent and with a poor grip on action – so I wasn’t exactly warming up a welcome for this much hyped slide sideways into space fantasy. How wrong was I? This is the best “hard sci-fi film” for decades, so grand in scale that it dwarfs Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway. McConaughey is the star, playing the retired Nasa astronaut heading back into space after years kicking his heels on a world heading towards annihilation. There he finds that, out on the edge of a black hole where time, space and the laws of everyday physics break down, the cosmic and the entirely personal intersect. Through McConaughey, Nolan sings a quiet lament for the death of the space race’s philosophical underpinning in the white heat of modernism, carefully using special effects and music in a quietly awesome, deliberately Kubrickian way. This he yokes to that sense of trembling on a threshold that Tarkovsky was so good at, and offsets these two “epic” influences against a folksy Star Trek humanism, McConaughey’s flyboy space pilot being about 50 per cent Captain Kirk and 50 per cent Flash Gordon. And though some criticism can be levelled at the way Interstellar ends (no spoilers at all about plot), this too, I thought, was deliberate, a harking back to the sort of 1950s film which ended with an epilogue in which loose ends were tied up by some guy with a pipe and a reassuring haircut before the titles rolled. Full of fascinating scientific procedural detail (how do you slingshot around a black hole?), packed with ideas, superbly constructed, thrilling, adept at juggling several storylines simultaneously, and with a grip on special effects that puts Nolan in a league on his own… you get the idea.

Interstellar – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

St. Vincent (EV, cert 12)

A comedy starring Bill Murray. Now there’s a loaded phrase. Murray has been in so many “nearly” films that even his most ardent fans know that his films need approaching with caution, but that good or bad, Murray himself will be playing a blinder. St. Vincent is nearer than most to being what the fans want – a comedy in which a vulnerable kid is left in the hands of the most inappropriate man in town, played by Murray as a ghost of Charles Bukowski (drink, hookers, lack of respect for the herd). So what’s the arc? The kid learns a thing or two, and the man is gently humanised by the experience? That’s the fellow. Stifle that gentle groan for a minute because though it’s undeniable that the film heads exactly where you think it’s going to go from the first second that grouchy Vincent meets his new neighbour (Melissa McCarthy impressively toning it down) and her kid (Jaeden Lieberher, and what a find he is), the film does it with a slightly knowing twinkle. That’s why, I suspect, Naomi Watts is overdoing it wildly as Vincent’s Russian hooker girlfriend, while Chris O’Dowd also plays to the stereotype a touch as the kid’s Catholic priest teacher with a good line in snappy humour. The result is warm and gently funny, with a great big slobbery sentimental finish arriving just when the comic stuff has been played about as far as it can go.

St. Vincent – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Doc of the Dead (Altitude, cert 15)

A documentary about zombies. A fairly light-hearted one, all told, though it talks to all the right people – from Simon Pegg and George Romero, to Bruce Campbell, Stuart Gordon and make-up supremo Tom Savini. Though mostly fixed on the sort of zombie flick that came along in the wake of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) – with everything from 28 Days Later to World War Z and shoot-em-up games up for discussion – it also ventures a bit of historical context. 1910’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari was an early instance, before the zombie film settled down into being mostly about race – black men dehumanised by voodoo (ie naked black lust) menacing virginal white women, as in 1932’s White Zombies. Then we learn of the “alien zombie” movies of the 1950s such as Invisible Invaders and Plan 9 from Outer Space, which showed that fear about racial annihilation had been replaced by fear of nuclear annihilation. The zombie is an endlessly adaptable metaphor, it seems. There’s plenty of interesting stuff in here, with Romero particularly coherent and intelligent on the subject of the field he helped create (though he himself wouldn’t accept Night of the Living Dead as a zombie film until the Cahiers Du Cinema boys declared that that’s what it was). Most notably he talks about the zombie film as a sign that there is frustration abroad – it’s a cultural warning. However, this is an 81 minute film that could easily lose 20 minutes. There’s no need for the digression into the cellars of survivalists preparing for the apocalypse. And there’s also no need for the jokey phoney adverts, though of course it’s understood that director Alexandre O Philippe is only trying to stop things bogging down in heavy debate. Make the doc you want to make, Mr Philippe, and then the people will come – possibly shuffling and with outstretched arms.

Doc of the Dead – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Get On Up (Universal, cert 12)

This biopic about James Brown has a screenplay by Jes and John Henry-Butterworth that’s aiming for poetic compression – everything we know about James Brown is shown to us only once (he takes crack once, he beats his wife once, he goes on the run from the law once, he gets put in jail once, he recklessly waves a gun around once, tax avoidance is mentioned once… and so on), all of these irruptions springing from Brown’s psychologically compromised childhood (his mother walked out and he was raised in a brothel). However, director Tate Taylor is trying to make a tasteful “standard” biopic, along the lines of Ray – dolly shots and character arcs and pretty lighting and period detailing – but the Butterworth’s screenplay, particularly that yo-yo timeline, needs something more experimental, dynamic, funky. Chadwick Boseman is better as Brown the man than Brown the performer – sloppy spins – though how anyone is expected to capture the sheer dynamism of Brown at his peak is beyond comprehension. The key reference point here is in Taylor’s recreation of the TAMI Show in 1964, when Brown, irate because the Rolling Stones were getting top billing, put on a display so pyrotechnical that they were afraid to follow him. To digress slightly, this is a case of “print the legend” or so says Mick Jagger in a documentary you can find here about Brown’s life. Get On Up (also co-produced by Jagger, interestingly) is ultimately a missed opportunity: it’s no use as a primer on Brown’s extraordinary career because it lacks details and pussyfoots around its subject, and its headline-hopping superficial approach means that the great developments (he invented funk music, for god’s sake) don’t get the weight they deserve. But if you do already know the Brown story, this is, damning summation, a pleasant enough entertainment.

Get On Up – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Grandmaster (Metrodome, cert 15)

I’ve already reviewed this film about the celebrated Ip Man at length, here. I’m pretty much of the same opinion now as I was then – it’s no good. I’ve never particularly subscribed to the “good things are in it” take on a film. The first question to ask is: does it work dramatically? If it doesn’t then occasionally there might be some mitigating factor – if a film is bravely experimental or it’s dealing with a subject no one else will touch – that stops it getting a big thumbs down. But generally speaking I don’t care how lovely something looks (and this does), how big the stars (they don’t come much bigger than Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi in Chinese cinema), how celebrated the director (and Wong Kar Wei is without doubt one of the genius directors), or how technically superior its individual elements (fight scenes choreographed by legend Yuen Woo-ping). This is a four hour film that’s been cut back to two, and in the process most of its coherence and drama and magic has been kung-fu’d to death.

The Grandmaster – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Wooden Crosses (Eureka, cert PG)

Made in 1932 using techniques which must have been groundbreaking then, this remarkably fluid and still very effective war film is often hailed as one of the best of the genre. It follows, in what is now a standard formula, a group of “just guys” into the trenches of the First World War, then into a battle that is still a marvel of mis-en-scène, man-movement and camerawork, and finally into a cemetery where writer/director Raymond Bernard gives the guys a pitiless big finish reinforcing the “war is hell” set-ups that have come before. Thanks to a 2014 restoration, you’d barely guess this film was 80-odd years old. A few midtones might have slipped on the way but overall it’s bright and crisp with good contrast. The sound is more problematic, though oddly it’s only speech which sounds a bit tinny (no big deal for subtitle readers); the whump whump of ordnance in the battle scenes comes through loud and clear. This is important, because though Bernard is interested in his characters (Charles Vanel and Antonin Artaud are among the men playing them), he’s more focused on getting across the disorienting effect of battle, the way it unmoors men. Some fall apart, others discover wells of calm heroism. “You’re going to lose two fingers,” one soldier is told after being hit with a bullet. “It’s OK, I’m no pianist,” he quips.

Wooden Crosses – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Pelo Malo (Axiom, cert 15)

In the Venezuelan slums, a pretty young woman who has lost her job as a security guard is consumed with worry about her son. He’s a pretty young thing, and his obsession with his “bad hair” (the film’s title in Spanish) awakens in her the fear that he is gay. Of course she dresses this up as a general fear for his future – what life for a gay lad in those macho purlieus – but the look of distaste on her face tells another story, and the fact that she has Hispanic looks and the son takes after his absent African-featured father is another count against him. It’s the acting that should draw you towards what would, in another age, have been called a kitchen sinker – Samuel Lange Zambrano and Samantha Castillo, as son and mother, are so natural and believable that Pelo Malo almost has a documentary quality. Nelly Ramos, as the boy’s grandmother, wickedly encouraging him to flame on – we suspect it’s a way of getting at the woman who took her own son away – takes the film up what looks like a potential Billy Elliot avenue. But there’s no such easy redemption here, and by the end the look on the boy’s face suggests that his belief in fairy tales might be shattered for ever. An unusual, psychologically gruesome corrective to the usual happy-ever-afters.

Pelo Malo – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

 

 

Havoc

Anne Hathaway vamps in Havoc

 

 

 

 

What’s this – lovely, sweet, wide-eyed Anne Hathaway saying “fuck”? Getting into a fight? Showing us her breasts? Giving a blowjob? And within the first ten minutes of the film starting too. Someone, it seems, is after an image makeover, and thanks to director Barbara Kopple, she gets one. That might be what Havoc is most remembered for, in fact, because in most other respects this is a rather disappointing “moral panic” movie like the ones from the 1950s where teenagers would race bikes too fast or hang with the wrong crowd, or both. Here the wrong crowd is people of colour and it’s the white people who get into trouble hanging with them. To be fair to Kopple and writers Stephen Gaghan and Jessica Kaplan, the emphasis is not so much on colour as simply being culturally wrongfooted – “some lines aren’t meant to be crossed” proclaims the tagline – the story being about Allison and Emily, two nice white girls (Hathaway and Bijou Phillips, also not averse to flashing the mammaries) with a love for all things gangsta, who wind up in the orbit of some Latino gangbangers after heading into East LA for thrills and, eventually, urban cock. But things quickly go from slumming-it edgy to super scary after Mexican drug boss Hector (Freddy Rodriguez) takes them at their word and offers full initiation into the gang.

Kopple has won two Oscars for her documentaries on social themes (1976’s Harlan County USA, and 1990’s American Dream, both about industrial disputes). And she’s clearly been hired here to deliver shakycam edge and street-real looks, both of which she achieves. Kopple has no hand in the script, which is where the film soils itself, whether it’s in the “we’re teenagers and we’re bored” tell-don’t-show introductions to Allison and Emily or the later pulpit-bashing homeboy speeches by the disgruntled ethnics – we’re human beings, man, and we’ve got a grievance. Whether that’s down to Kaplan’s original draft, written when she was a 16-year-old high schooler and from personal experience, or the later rewrite by Gaghan, who won an Oscar for his work on Traffic, we’ll probably never know. But if the voice of authenticity was ever there in the original, Gaghan’s taken it out. If it wasn’t… then his attempts to put it back in haven’t worked.

Either way, the result is a modern updating of the teenagers-gone-wild film, a genre that only Harmony Korine seems to be able to wring any joy out of these days. But at least it shows that Hathaway is looking to move beyond the wholesome Disney-ish fare of The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. Next up, she’s in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, the “gay cowboy” movie. Now there’s a genre that doesn’t come freighted with baggage.

 

 

Havoc – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© 2006 Steve Morrissey

 

 

 

Volver

Penelope Cruz in Volver

Pedro Almodóvar is bang back on form in a film celebrating a way of life he’s spent the best part of his artistic life revolting against – family centred, non-cosmopolitan, conservative, Catholic. Well, Generalissimo Franco has been dead a while now.
The word Volver means “return” in Spanish, and if Almodóvar is returning to something he long ago rejected – with a fair degree of tenderness (ah, maturity) – Penelope Cruz is also back in a Spanish speaking role, in her home country, in the sort of film she started out in, a drama with its feet in familiar soil but its head who knows where (see Abre los Ojos).
It’s set in one of those small, bright Spanish towns with a large cemetery at its edge, where the women do all the hard work and the dead are always present among the living. Almodóvar making this doubly clear with a detail – in this town women don’t fully depart this life even when they’re dead, and might well take up residence with a relative, helping out with the cooking when they are supposed to be resting in the ground. Riding this dividing line between death and life is Raimunda (Cruz), a mother who works as a cleaner and is forced to pull on the apron and clean up the blood after her own daughter stabs her father to death after he made an advance on her.
What are we watching – a comedy, a thriller, a feminist fairy tale, a magic-realist ghost movie, or what? From the colour palette of bright colours and red in particular, the heightened emotions, it looks most like the sort of film Douglas Sirk used to make in the 1950s, Sirk being a sort of godfather to the young gay directors who came a generation later.
With Sirk we always knew where we were – elbow deep in melodrama, emotional blood and guts everywhere – but Almodóvar has added the wrinkle of genre obfuscation and keeps us guessing, thematically tracking the whodunit of the plot with the whatisit of the genre.
On both levels he succeeds, delivering his best film in years, Cruz also majestic as the knockout beauty to whose face and body a life of drudgery has added a blowsy allure.
This is a “dive in an enjoy” sort of film, a rich thing of texture to be devoured visually. Look out for the constant imagery of things rotating, revolving, returning – Almodóvar has made peace with his past, but on his own terms. File alongside All About My Mother as the very best of his work.

 

Volver – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

 

 

The Departed

Jack Nicholson in The Departed

 

 

Martin Scorsese’s remake of the brilliant 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs adds 50 minutes of flab to what was a lean, taut thriller. The plot is the same – cop bosses Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg send in undercover man Leo DiCaprio to bust a gang. Unbeknown to the boys at the precinct, gang boss Jack Nicholson is one step ahead of them and has been grooming a placeman of his own (Matt Damon) for years, and he’s now deep deep inside their gangbusting team. The drama springs from the “Who is going to get whacked first?” premise as each side works out after a while that there’s a mole on the team and then tries to work out who it is.

Scorsese gets busy with the digressions from the start, with a Goodfellas opening (thanks to William Monahan’s script) intoned by Nicholson – “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want my environment to be product of me. Years ago we had the church…” And through the rest of the film Scorsese keeps adding self-consciously “Marty” touches – the use of the Stones and John Lennon on the soundtrack, the acres of wiseguy smalltalk that used to be fun until everyone started doing it, the “big man” acting style. If Scorsese is puzzlingly behaving as if Tarantino hasn’t happened, the basic cat-and-mouse of Damon and DiCaprio remains nailbiting, and the fact that the two stars are dressed and coiffed similarly is clearly also saying something about 21st century law enforcement (the usual thing, but hey). And Alec Baldwin, as the reptilian alpha male, toilet-mouthed and very violent cop, also reminds us what presence and acting chops are all about.

As for Jack Nicholson, the extra length of this film vis a vis the original looks to be down to the fact that it’s been rewritten around him, possibly to encourage him to sign up. Nicholson and Scorsese have never worked together before, and the suspicion is that Scorsese sees The Departed partly as a way of bagging another 70s legend. But though Nicholson’s presence can be justified in so many ways – his Frank Costello is based on real-life Boston crime boss “Whitey” Bulger, his character allows Scorsese to get religion in, and widen the film out into a discussion about morality and guilt, and so on – the story isn’t about him, or shouldn’t be. And as if to show he knows everything has been bent too far out of shape to accommodate him, Nicholson delivers a finger-flick performance. Scorsese-philes and Nicholson groupies will love all the masturbatory touches. The rest of us will console ourselves with the Hong Kong original, which actually concentrates on the show rather than the sideshow, and with the fact that for all its flaws this is Scorsese’s best film since Casino, so maybe the man is on the comeback trail.

 

The Departed – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 

23 March 2015-03-23

The Homesman

 

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

Winter Sleep (New Wave, cert 15)

The Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest thing of recalcitrant beauty is three hours long and breaks down neatly into three acts, each about an hour in length. In act one we meet Aydin, a progressive baby-boomer with a bit of money, a local luminary, a former actor, a newspaper columnist, a soft touch. Winter Sleep follows him, much in the way Michael Haneke did with Hidden, as that nice liberal carapace is pressure-tested, in Aydin’s case when the son of one of his tenants breaks his car window with a stone. Tenants? Yes, that’s how come Aydin is so comfortable, the opinions, liberal views and so on flowing from the fact that he has a big fat cushion of cash around him, though Aydin might have you believe that it’s the wealth that has flowed from the humanist philosophy, not vice versa. This is a biblical leviathan of a film, shot in Ceylan’s panoramic slow, photographic style and using the strange beehive structures of the snowy Cappadochian town of Uçhisar to strangely beautiful effect, though all of the central section of the film takes place indoors, where Aydin (a Mastroianni-like performance of addled angst by Haluk Bilginer) is psychologically filleted in scenes of Bergmann-esque excavation, turning out to be less of a nice guy than he seemed, first by his sister (Demet Akbag) and then by his wife (Melisa Sözen). Don’t expect fireworks; this is more depth charge than tracer bullets. But the scale and ambition is remarkable. At some level Ceylan is taking on the whole of western civilisation, and the winter sleep Ceylan is referring to might be an apocalyptic one.

Winter Sleep – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Paddington (StudioCanal, cert PG)

Michael Bond’s bear from darkest Peru arrives on screen in a carefully constructed and smartly written comedy with enough depth to make it probably endlessly rewatchable. From Will Hay and Norman Wisdom through to Mr Bean and even the mighty Inbetweeners in their second film, the reliance on a physical gag and a broad wink of “it’s all just a bit of fun” insouciance has always been the bane of British comedy. But Paddington gets it entirely right – pantomime mixed in with a Mary Poppins Edwardian cosiness, a bit of zany, Hard Day’s Night imagination off the leash, as the accident-prone animated bear moves seamlessly around a live-action London of red double-deckers in the company of the entirely charming adoptive Brown family (headed by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as if they were David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns). Best of all, director Paul King (hitherto best known for directing TV’s The Mighty Boosh) has made sure everyone has got the memo – Nicole Kidman plays the museum owner intent on capturing Paddington as an evil Julie Andrews, Peter Capaldi, as the Browns’ busybody neighbour, is clearly doing Harry H Corbett. And if the script lays on references to immigrants being made to feel welcome a little doth-protestily, there are bijou jokes (Kidman has a little “Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible” moment) which are well judged and don’t overstay their welcome. There is a tiny gripe to be had and it’s about the boxy acoustic of Ben Whishaw’s voice as Paddington, possibly because he was recorded after Colin Firth had been dropped after filming had wrapped. It’s a minor niggle and won’t ruin this lovely and funny film, which we will all probably now continue to watch until the end of time.

Paddington – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Two Night Stand (Signature, cert 15)

A screwball comedy with all the important action taking place in a single room, where a boy meets girl/loses girl couple trade quips and bodily fluids. That’s right, a sex comedy that’s actually about sex. It’s Generation Tinder stuff, with the second wrinkle being that it’s the girl who is pursuing boy for string-free coupling, the two of them only actually meeting cute once the deed has been done and she’s about to leave – but she’s snowed in, damnabbit, by what the delighted local weather people are calling “Apocalypse Snow”. I’ve seen some “meh” reviews for this film, but can’t for the life of me work out why the half-heartedness – it’s Miles Teller (man of the moment after Whiplash) and Analeigh Tipton (on the verge of stardom for some time), as the pair of bright, sparky and chemically believable fuck acquaintances. “Buddies” is overdoing the familiarity. The dialogue is smart, the sex is erotic though not sticky and most of all it’s about people pulled one way by the laws of attraction and the other way by the screenplay. I saw it as an updated Dick Van Dyke Show episode, only partly because Tipton has a Mary Tyler Moore mouth and zippety-zing delivery, though I don’t think Dick and Mary ever had a scene where they discussed the difficulty of achieving simultaneous orgasm. Sure, there’s a New York tendency to gabble here and there, but director Max Nichols (son of Mike, master of films built around fraught sexual relationships – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, for two) offers as recompense the odd deliberate moment of Breakfast at Tiffany’s throwback, Henry Mancini screwball vamp and all. So, yes, very good. “Meh” be damned.

Two Night Stand – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Homesman (E One, cert 15)

The Homesman is Tommy Lee Jones’s second western as director. His first one, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, was handsome looking and comprised individually powerful scenes, but it had a problem with the narrative – there wasn’t much of one – which Jones obscured by messing about with the film’s chronology. The Homesman is also a fine looking film and it also has a narrative problem. This time it’s both less and more serious. But first a bit of plot. Hilary Swank plays the pious plain Jane who volunteers to take three women driven insane by the hard pioneering life back east for some unspecified treatment; Jones is a hard-drinking rapscallion in the Lee Marvin mould whom she co-opts into helping after rescuing him from death at the end of a noose. And off they head, these two, with the three insane women and a wagon and a couple of horses, through injun country and bandit country, and so on. For all its Clint Eastwood taciturnity and straightforwardness (no jumbled chronology this time out), this is more like one of those John Wayne westerns in which the Duke puts Maureen O’Hara over his knee. Except here it’s Swank doing the spanking and Jones taking his medicine. All very fine, and it makes for an amiable, finely acted tables-turned western in the high style, the shifting seasons of New Mexico beautifully caught by the camera of Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Argo, Wolf of Wall Street). And it’s entirely satisfying right up until the final stretch, when Jones the director and co-writer allows Jones the actor the sort of finale that the film has not prepared us for. In spite of the fact it’s called The Homesman, this is clearly a film about Swank’s character, not Jones’s. And if you come away, as I did, feeling robbed because of this confusion about who is the star and who the support, Jones has to live with the fact that he’s let something approaching a classic stumble on the home stretch.

The Homesman – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

King of Escape (Peccadillo, cert 18)

A first release in Anglophone countries of Alain Guiraudie’s 2009 film, off the back of last year’s entirely successful Stranger at the Lake (one of the best films of the year). Again it’s a gay movie, and again it sits so entirely within that world that it also isn’t. Its hero, Armand (Ludovic Berthillot) is a dumpy middle-aged gay tractor salesman with an affectless demeanour matching Guiraudie’s deadpan modus operandi. After Armand rescues a pretty underage teenage girl (excellent Hafsia Herzi) from some lairy youths one night, he forms an erotic relationship with her, and encourages her to run away with him to start a new life. The running could be seen as a metaphor for a man trying to escape his sexuality, but that is to underestimate Guiraudie, who is not interested in banging the identity-politics drum. Instead he gives us a doomed, crazed comedy in which the gay element is entirely natural – scenes of men cottaging in lay-bys are neither erotic, nor exotic, nor scandalous, this is just what gay men do. And there’s a maudlin streak offsetting the more Benny Hill comedic element as Armand tries to square up to middle age, and the increasing sense that, for him, faceless sex with men at the roadside might not be enough. As with Stranger at the Lake, it’s clear from the first shot that whatever else Guiraudie is, he’s technically an artist – every frame, lens choice, angle and edit and the way these are integrated into the soundscape and soundtrack leads in one direction, towards a satisfying, quirky, soulful dramedy. The 18 certificate, in case you’re feeling squeamish, is for naked female not male flesh, by the way.

King of Escape – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

To Write Love on Her Arms (Sony, cert 15)

A real-life self-help screed about the self-harming drug-addicted Renee Yohe and how she found her way out of the dark place, and incidentally about the foundation created in her name to help those like her. Kat Dennings can do little wrong in my book, and as Yohe helps lift a film that stays too true to the young woman’s story and in the process starts to lose itself in detail – we don’t need to know that much about her old friends, really we don’t. More to the point, the film loses sight of the fact that people on drugs are boring, and that films about them are at their best when they’re “there but for the grace of god go I” rather than “behold the degradation”. Let’s say some nice stuff – Rupert Friend again proves his mettle as one of the guys trying to help her get clean, and there is a fascinating central section which almost but not quite starts dealing with the notion of the professionalisation of charity, and the negative effects of the bleeding-heart lobby on society. Then it’s back to drugs-bad/sobriety-good, and the feeling of being clobbered by a Christian tract.

To Write Love on Her Arms – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Horrible Bosses 2 (Warner, cert 15)

Horrible Bosses 1 starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as three guys who had horrible bosses. The bosses – including Jennifer Aniston as a sexaholic dentist and Kevin Spacey as a boss with an incendiary temper – were spectacularly unpleasant and were by a long way the funniest part of the film. When the bosses weren’t on, speaking scripted lines of amazing but highly amusing awfulness, the three guys indulged in largely unscripted goofing about in protracted scenes which boiled down, essentially, to one guy shouting over another. There’s plenty more of that in this sequel that busts an aorta to justify Aniston’s and Spacey’s presence this time around. Actually, it doesn’t – it’s only credibility that’s stretched, and the wages bill. So, we get to hear Aniston say “veiny cock” and “helmet” and I think at one point offering to let Bateman take a dump on her chest, or was she going to take one on his? And in the prison where he is now incarcerated, we hear Spacey’s character going on stratospheric cuss-filled rages. These bits are undeniably funny. As for the rest of it – the three guys shout over each other again and generally behave like the Three Stooges. That’s not a good thing. However, I did laugh once, heartily. It was over an exchange in the outtakes between Bateman and Sudeikis. I’m smiling about it now writing this.

Horrible Bosses 2 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

16 March 2015-03-16

Alex Essoe in Starry Eyes

 

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate, cert 12)

Jennifer Lawrence works the adenoids in the third dump of Hunger Games literalism, in a series that has consistently mistaken event for drama. Being the first of two parts, Mockingjay was never even aiming to line up all its battalions, send them into battle and bring them safely home again. But even so, this is a very thin outing for Katniss and co – now she is being groomed as the mascot of the rebels and as such is off out with a camera team making propaganda TV infomercials. How very quaint – TV, camera crews, a world where there is still broadcast television at all. In an attempt to find something good to say about this film, this entire series, I point you at the high concept – it’s the latest in a long run of recent films that see young people in an Ayn Rand universe (it’s the government that’s the bad guy in a world strangely devoid of corporations) attempting to start a revolution (Divergent, The Maze, The Giver). But mostly I point you at the cast, which must rate as the very finest assemblage of talent ever to be so poorly used – Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks. And thank god for Banks, as the dizzy stylist Effie Trinket, a little jewel of humour and fun in an otherwise dour trudge through Dystopia 101. Josh Hutcherson continues to be representative of everything that’s wrong – his character is underwritten, there is no chemistry between his Peter and Katniss, he’s a humourless black hole of wit. For fans only.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Amour Fou (Arrow, cert 12)

There’s a hint of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey about Jessica Hausner’s biopic about Heinrich Von Kleist, the German romantic poet who committed suicide in 1811 and persuaded a pretty young woman who take a bullet with him. In other words Hausner twits the man, portrayed as the aesthete poet par excellence, and whose pronouncements on the baseness of the world are not laughed out of the house every time he makes them because all of Germany is in the grip of this new philosophy privileging feeling over reason. “French” is how these ideas are described throughout, Hausner never stooping to overtly portraying the 19th century through 21st-century eyes. Instead she nudges us – Kleist himself (Christian Friedel), a small, whey-faced mournful man with a “slap me” demeanour; his love poetry, a list of lousy synonyms; and his ludicrous attempt to talk a woman he’s just met at a dinner party to form a suicide pact with him. Around this there are quack therapists advocating blood-letting as therapy; constant discussion among the aristocracy of the new notion of taxing those at the top; and the fact that a servant, tall and dressed in red so you can’t miss her, is constantly working while these rich layabouts sit about and gripe. It all adds up to a bone dry satire, beautifully observed, impeccably decorated (but were those flat-matt painted surfaces really always so pristine?) and candle-lit, and played so exquisitely that we actually sympathise with these people, even as we smile at their oafishness. And while Hausner’s intention is to deracinate a philosophical movement the better to examine it, there’s a lovely coda at the end, where she appears to acknowledge that she is being a touch facetious. It’s just a song sung by a young woman, a heavingly romantic one. But it’s a thing of real beauty and after it Hausner cuts straight to black as if to say, “Romanticism produced beauty too – so sue me”.

Amour Fou – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

The Internet’s Own Boy (Spectrum, cert 12)

A documentary telling the story of Aaron Swartz, the American child prodigy who was on a computer at two years old, was helping draft the RSS protocol at 13, co-drafted the Creative Commons protocols at 15, got involved with the launch of Reddit and was dead aged 26, having hanged himself while awaiting trial for hacktivism. His hacking of the JSTOR database was his downfall, after he was arrested by the FBI for illegally downloading academic journals which Swartz believed shouldn’t charge for access at all, since much of the work contained in them had been funded by taxation, charities or volunteer organisations. Swartz saw it as the “wealth of human knowledge” being locked away. And put like this, it’s a hard argument to refute. However, I would have liked someone to have a try. This very US style of documentary – openly partisan – runs into trouble when there is a strong counter-argument (copyright theft, intellectual property and so on) that’s not being made, and eventually the silence starts to roar. That said, this is a fascinating story about a fascinating individual – Tim Berners Lee wrote him a poem, for god’s sake. And in the archive footage of Swartz appearing on TV to explain his actions and reasoning, we see a guy who wasn’t just incredibly gifted but also very switched on to modern media practices. He’d have happily defended his position, I suspect. And would probably have come out on top.

The Internet’s Own Boy – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

My Old Lady (Curzon, cert 12)

The ageing demographic of western countries is manifesting itself cinematically in two different genres – one is the “geri-actioner”, in which Liam Neeson or other guys run around on stiff knees. The other is this sort of thing, a Best Exotic Marigold comedy that’s gentle to the point of limpness. Maggie Smith plays the “old lady” living in a Paris apartment which broke American Kevin Kline has inherited from his dead dad and which, he thinks, he can now sell for a packet. Not so fast. Smith, under a “viager” arrangement with Kline’s dad, has the place for life. And so they square off, the old dear and the younger (Kline is 67 though playing 57) man, with the grand dame’s daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) thrown in to add a plot wrinkle and a grey-pubed focus for Kline. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It’s not all that bad, director Israel Horovitz managing to open out his own play into something almost cinematic – Paris lovely, the apartment charming and so on. What he also brings from the theatre is one of the grand clunking analogues – the old dear, it turns out, isn’t just squatting in Kline’s apartment, she has some claim to part of his history too. This is there to bolster claims to seriousness, but it brings with it entire scenes where one character simply sits there and tells another character something – the theatre does love its speechifying. Things start to drag. However, you don’t employ Oscar winners for nothing and Smith heaps on the charm while Kline does a lot of emphatic physical work (ie clowning).

My Old Lady – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Starry Eyes (Metrodome, cert 18)

How do Hollywood actresses get gigs? They give blow jobs, don’t they? This we all know. And Starry Eyes takes it as a starting point for a satire on Hollywood that would be dull and obvious if it hadn’t decided to go all in. Alex Essoe plays the young beauty whose life among a similar group of struggling, bitching, fornicating stars-in-waiting is beginning to get as unbearable as her McJob at a place called Taters – Hooters without the class. Then she’s called in for an audition on a film called The Silver Scream, is propositioned by the old goat of a producer and co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer get busy referencing 1980s horror (with the odd nod to Rosemary’s Baby). They even go so far as to use a synth soundtrack in the John Carpenter style (and how right Carpenter was about the synth’s suitability for horror – simple, direct and uncanny). Things get bloody, they get intense, there is screaming, there is murder, there is even the pulling out of fingernails and other delights I won’t ruin by disclosing. It all gets very gothic and quite funny – Hollywood producers may be mercenaries but devil-worshipping cock-sucking zombies? In its stylistic borrowings think of it as a popcorn version of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. Does that help? Oh well.

Starry Eyes – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Remaining (Sony, cert 15)

The Remaining is produced by Affirm, the division of Sony dedicated to producing films for evangelical Christians. So any theological debating points thrown up by it are probably best taken up with Affirm/Sony, rather than Christianity or God. Because it’s a film about the End of Times, and what happens after the trumpets have sounded and the Rapture has happened and all the righteous have been taken up into heaven. What happens to “the remaining”, you see. Alexa Vega gets star billing and while she’s actually upright she plays a bride whose wedding day it is, the most important day of her life just happening to coincide with a trumpet blast which immediately causes all the churchgoing folk to drop dead, kaboom. Decent, non-churchgoing folk are left behind. Meanwhile, outside, buildings start falling down and wingéd semi-visible creatures start picking off the survivors. Way to go, God of Love. Soon, Vega’s character has sustained an injury and so spends the rest of the film on a gurney out of the action. So, two days work for Vega, Affirm get a star on the billing (if you can remember Spy Kids… her), everyone’s happy. This is a well made, well acted film with a couple of good shocks. But by far the most fun is to be had watching the producers shoehorning in the Christian element and tying themselves in knots doing so. My favourite was the bit where the Pastor (John Pyper-Ferguson, giving it the full Russell Crowe) mocks Tommy (Johnny Pacar), one of the people we’re rooting for even if God isn’t, for suggesting that this apocalypse could be an alien invasion. Is what the pastor is suggesting any less fanciful?

The Remaining – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Sweet Smell of Success (Arrow, cert PG)

A 1957 film about the gossip industry hung off the character of Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), the bottom-feeding “cookie full of arsenic” agent bringing titbits to the big noise of the day, newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker. Hunsecker is supposedly based on Walter Winchell, doyen of the form from the early 1930s to late 1950s, and the script is co-written by Ernest Lehman, who had been a Sidney Falco for Winchell. Burt Lancaster plays this big wheel with too much affection for his sister as a sociopath closeted queen. And it’s a good act, but Curtis is better, throwing himself entirely into his role, as an amoral louse, in an attempt to escape beauty casting. It didn’t work because the film was a flop, and so Curtis went back to playing clean-limbed leads in roles he was too old for. Director Alexander Mackendrick brings the shooting economy he learnt at the Ealing Studios to this late-era film noir with pristine monochrome looks courtesy of DP James Wong Howe, and a mean streets jazz-flavoured score by Elmer Bernstein and Chico Hamilton. Like a Marx brothers film, Sweet Smell of Success gives too much time to a side-issue love story between Hunsecker’s 19-year-old sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and jazz guitarist Steve (Marty Milner) who don’t do much more than simper and glower. The film no longer works as a searing exposé – how could it? – nor really as a drama about possible sexual deviancy. But as a snapshot of a period it’s a triumph, the decision to shoot out on the night-time streets and in the clubs and bars entirely vindicated by the end product. That’s been cleaned up and rescanned at 4K from the original negative (black and white being much more stable than colour) and though I wondered about the gamma values – were the whites just a touch dark? – this could be in keeping with the film’s murky themes.

Sweet Smell of Success – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

 

 

 

9 March 2015-03-09

Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Out in the UK This Week

The Imitation Game (StudioCanal, cert 12)

Benedict Cumberbatch plays code-breaking genius Alan Turing as an Asperger’s Kenneth More in this superior biopic set in the era of stiff upper lips and laws against homosexual deeds.

This drama returns to those laws several times, when it’s not busying itself with the actual big stuff – defeating the Germans. Of course, as everyone in the world knows but the UK’s cultural gatekeepers wilfully refuse to acknowledge, the Americans and the Russians won the Second World War, with Britain luckily on the winning side but making useful contributions. The cracking of the Enigma code, which allowed the Germans to communicate with each other without fear of the enemy eavesdropping, was more than useful, it was in some theatres of war decisive.

“We’re going to break an unbreakable Nazi code and win the war,” says Cumbo’s closeted gay Turing with a tiny smirk at one point, boiling the film down to a sentence. “Oh!” squeaks Keira Knightley, a bright spark in his team, somehow squeezing four vowel sounds into the exclamation, an ability thought lost since the passing of Celia Johnson.

Director Morten Tyldum showed a gift for the tiny gesture, the gorgeous texture in Headhunters and lavishes his visual style on The Imitation Game, which is otherwise all jolly hockey sticks and cracking wheezes, great fun while it’s in the Second World War, correspondingly bleak when it shifts to ten years later and Turing is being pursued for his wayward taste in men.

You could take issue with Cumbo’s on/off character tics, but maybe Turing was like that too, and used a “withdrawn personality” as a defence mechanism. In which case the actor’s nailed it.

In any case, who wants to pick a fight with Cumbo right now? You’d be better off trying to trash Richard Attenborough in the PoW dramas he featured in, which The Imitation Game snugly sits next to.

The Imitation Game – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

’71 (StudioCanal, cert 15)

Having been massively impressive in Starred Up, Jack O’Connell gets a “vehicle”, a thriller set in Belfast in 1971, when the Northern Ireland Troubles were just getting into gear.

Once upon a time a film made in the UK and set at this time would have arrived already laden with accusations of political partisanship; it might even have been targeted by the men in balaclavas. Now, with most of the dust settled, and doubtless partly because director Yann Demange is French, Northern Ireland can be used more as a backdrop for an old fashioned chase movie.

O’Connell plays the rookie dropped into this alien territory with other British Army squaddie volunteers, but he’s the only one who gets caught on the wrong side of an invisible fault line and is then pursued as if his life depends on it, because it does.

This is a concisely set up film – in a couple of strokes we’re introduced to this orphanage kid who has clearly joined the Army because it’s the next step in an institutional life; we’re entirely on his side. After that, elegance continues to be ’71‘s notable feature, the chase allowing us, through O’Connell, to visit all sides: old IRA and new, normal army and Special Branch provocateurs, Protestant loyalists of various stripes, each group comprised of good guys and bad guys, Demange having no particular axe to grind, everyone caught up in a situation which has developed its own momentum and which no one can now slow down.

But it’s only even handed to a point: its darkest characters are the Brits, the excellent Sean Harris as Captain Browning being the full Machiavellian deal, twirling moustache and all. Shot out on the streets, with lots of sodium orange, and a soundtrack of rhythmic ambience, this is an arthouse actioner that undermines any likely criticism of its political position by focusing so tightly on the poor squaddie at its centre that it appears to be about one lone man having an extremely bad night, rather than a region of the planet descending into an ugly civil war.

’71 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Say When aka Laggies (Icon, cert 15)

I came out of The Edge of Love, John Maybury’s 2008 film about the love triangle that the poet Dylan Thomas set up between himself, his wife and his mistress, understanding suddenly how much better an actress Sienna Miller was than Keira Knightley – the one so natural against the other’s self-consciousness.

Knightley evidently did too, because ever since then she’s actually worked at becoming better at what she does – and since when did multi-millionaire stars bothers with such a thing?

It is paying off in Say When, which will probably be a disappointment for lovers of Lynn Sheltons’s indie-ish relationship dramas but is highly welcome if you like left-field romantic (sort of) comedy (again, sort of). Knightley plays a slacker, whose refusal to grow up eventually sees the late-20something becoming friends with a high schooler (Chloe Grace Moretz) after being asked to buy hookey hooch from a liquor store for her.

Sam Rockwell plays Moretz’s dad, highly suspicious of the developing relationship, which is where the sort-of rom and com mostly come in.

As with Shelton’s other films, there’s a lovely loose, improvisatory feel, and Knightley rises to the challenge with a spiky intelligent performance. Moretz plays to her strengths as a darkly bright teenager whose life might go either way, while Rockwell is believable and effortless as a charming but jaded divorce lawyer whose life is also, if he’d only see it, slightly adrift.

It’s a film that divides people up into two groups – the laggies (the film’s original title), who are the good guys, people who busk their way through life without a script and so sometimes get a bit lost; and the other lot, among them Knightley’s boyfriend (Mark Webber), at bottom conservative and never off someone else’s message.

It’s neither as raucous as Shelton’s Hump Day nor as emotionally tough as her My Sister’s Sister, but it is a good film, in some ways the sort that Ernst Lubitsch used to make – people you like in situations you recognise doing things you understand. And entertaining. Very.

Say When aka Laggies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Eastern Boys (Peccadillo, cert 15)

Beefed up with a bit of softcore gay sex to sell into a target niche, Eastern Boys is in fact much more than just a cheap thrill for the ageing homosexual. It’s a “state of the European Union” French drama about a 40something man who picks up a Ukrainian rent boy and then has his home invaded by a motley gang of the boy’s miscreant friends, who burgle and trash the place, confident that our man is closeted and won’t do anything about it. Or that the lad is underage – I could never quite work out the motives of the middle aged Daniel. But it doesn’t matter – he is in any case meant to be a still bourgeois centre around which the mayhem orbits.

Strangely, the film drops this intensely dramatic opening scenario, moving through two others (no spoilers) before coming to a thrilling finale out on the edge of Paris in the sort of cheap migrant hotel that every capital city possesses by the score.

Eastern Boys has lots to recommend it – it casts an urgent spell with minimum of dialogue, works dramatic wonders with only a couple of interior locations, never shakes off the seedy, faintly psychotic atmosphere it sets up at the beginning.

And it’s got an excellent cast – Olivier Rabourdin as Daniel, who has something of Kevin Spacey about him (would Spacey take on the role in an English version? Probably wouldn’t dare), Kirill Emelyanov as the Ukrainian Daniel falls for, Daniil Vorobyov as the unhinged leader of the rent boy gang, and in a tiny role but announcing herself as a star, Edéa Darcque as a the duty manager in the flophouse hotel.

Highly recommended.

Eastern Boys – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Marius (Film First, cert 12)

Daniel Auteuil is working his way through the Marcel Pagnol back catalogue, Marius being one third of the Marseille Trilogy also comprising Fanny (also out this week) and César (now in production). A couple of years back he also directed The Well Digger’s Daughter, another Pagnol original, and clearly buoyed by its success has decided to continue in the same vein: the full, old-school, quasi-theatrical, rose-tinted Pagnol shtick, in other words.

You are familiar with Manon des Sources and Jean de Florette (both of which featured Auteuil in a supporting role), also derived from Pagnol sources? This is same/same, but with not quite so much polish – Auteuil is pretty good but he’s no Claude Berri, director of 1986’s Manon and Florette (significantly, Auteuil waited until Berri died, in 2009, before he started on his Pagnol journey, in 2011).

The film, though, the film – ah yes, set in old Marseille down by the port, where Auteuil runs the bar, Raphaël Personnaz is his lusty son with dreams of going to sea, Victoire Bélézy is the lovely Fanny, whom Marius should marry because she’s not only the most beautiful girl in town but is spunky and bright. But Marius has got this thing for the sea and… hélas… and so on.

It’s a will they/won’t they, in other words, but it’s more about the time and the place than any of the people, and Auteuil adds another layer of nostalgie to the mix by deliberately echoing the acting style and camera movements of the 1930s (I’d suggest that this is a homage to the series of films made in the 1930s and directed by Pagnol himself, though I haven’t seen them).

It is entirely artificial, entirely lovely, one hundred per cent uncool and strangely affecting, especially Fanny’s heartbreak as her ice-queen carapace dissolves and she makes a sacrifice for the man she loves.

Marius – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Drop (Fox, cert 15)

A couple of years ago Michael R Roskam directed Bullhead, a particularly excellent and unusual drama which starred Matthias Schoenaerts as a rural gangster who injected himself with animal growth hormones.

It was an “actor on fire” performance and watching it I was convinced it would be remade for English-speakers and that Tom Hardy would take the Schoenaerts role.

We’re too pansy for meat that dark, it seems. But here, interestingly enough, is Tom Hardy in Roskam’s next film, with Schoenaerts slightly further down the billing, waiting like a depth charge for the last third of the film. Watch him and marvel.

I’m not sure the same can be said about the film as a whole, which feels like an achingly familiar walk down golden-era Scorsese streets, James Gandolfini starring as the putz “owner” of a Mob bar, Hardy as his bridling barkeep son, Noomi Rapace as the girl whose name might as well be Trouble, and Schoenaerts as her former boyfriend (and owner, as far as he’s concerned).

If we’re being kind, it’s a 1970s mood piece, brilliantly executed. If we’re not, it’s a reasonably pointless pastiche, with stock characters such as the Latino cop who reckons he knows what’s going on but can’t get through the wall of omerta, the Russian gangster loquacious one minute, vicious the next, and so on.

Gandolfini is great as the guy still standing on his vanished dignity, Hardy can do nothing with a role that probably worked better in Dennis Lehane’s original story, a fact made clear by Roskam’s use of voiceover to try and fill in the blanks in Hardy’s character. Rapace? Could be anyone, again a thin role.

It’s Schoenaerts who impresses. Watch him progressively increase the power of his performance, which is never less than weird and sinister and alone worth watching the film for.

The Drop – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Hundred-Foot Journey (E One, cert PG)

The filmic equivalent of Sunday night TV – reassuring, soporific, something you can do the ironing to, The Hundred-Foot Journey is the story of cultures clashing, but nicely, in picture-postcard France, where Om Puri and his large family of Indian immigrants, but nice immigrants, open a curry house – not a beery, lime-pickle-poppadum-beef-madras one but a tasteful pistachio-tandoori-quail affair – opposite a Michelin-starred restaurant run by an in-theory-formidable French restaurateur in the shape of Helen Mirren.

They don’t get on. Then they do. The end.

There isn’t a genuine moment or a believable relationship in this latest coffee-table feelgood film by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who keeps the pretty pictures coming though never works them into a dramatic arc.

The whole thing can best be summed up by Mirren’s bogus French accent. Quite why she eez speeeking laike zees when genuine French members of the cast are not is a mystery. But someone higher up the food chain has decreed that this is what the half-asleep, possibly Marigold Hotel demographic will be expecting.

Mirren was nominated for a Golden Globe for her music-hall turn, and her face when the nominations were read out said it all – “What me? For that? You’ve got to be… well, OK, but really…?”

If you’ve got a lot of shirts to do, you will probably love it.

The Hundred-Foot Journey – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2015


The Reception

Darien Sills-Evans in The Reception

 

 

The Reception is a film that seems to be heading gloriously in one direction, only to actually be heading disastrously in another. It tells the surely thorny enough story of Jeannette, a rich French-American woman (Pamela Holden Stewart) and her African-American lover Martin (Wayne Lamont Sims), who live in bucolic splendour in upstate New York, where he gains her financial patronage for his career as a (blocked) painter, in return for his companionship and quiescence about her drinking – the few glasses of red per night generally turning into a torrent. Then her daughter Sierra (Maggie Burkwit) turns up with her husband Andrew (Darien Sills-Evans) and the delicate balance is undone. It turns out that Martin and Jeannette aren’t that sort of a couple at all – he is in fact gay. And the fact that the new male arrival is also a black man leads to the horrible dawning suspicion that this isn’t an admirably colour-blind movie about human relationships, but a crypto-gay movie that will put black on black because transracial coupling is something that only goes on in real life, not the movies.

As the eccentric, self-obsessed Jeannette winds herself into monster mode, and the newly arrived Andrew reveals himself as an appalling snob, making his displeasure felt as Jeannette and Martin cross invisible borders of taste, things do crackle along. And the fact that the film cost only a few thousand dollars to make, was shot in a few days and the actors are people you’ve probably never heard of, these are all good reasons to be well disposed towards it. And I was. I enjoyed it even, early doors at any rate, and there’s lots to admire, especially the discomfited performances. But as the interpersonal relationships become more tangled, dark secrets become liberated thanks to alcohol and yet another character steps forward for a declamatory speech in which they get things off their chest – because in real life people say just exactly what they’re thinking, right? – the suspicion starts to build that Young is using the furniture of a “a searing chamber piece about complex personal relationships” to hide what is in fact a gay drama. The film is not “about” Jeannette and Martin, nor is it about Jeannette and daughter Sierra, no matter how loudly it proclaims that it is. It seems much more interested in what’s going on between the two men, who are introduced as and continue to be secondary characters. That’s where the action is though, often delivered via the grinding-buttock-ogram. I’m not objecting to the fact that this is a gay love story – though does it all have to be so half cock? – more the fact that I’ve been sold a pup. Or perhaps I’m feeling a sense of injustice that might be characterised as liberal white guilt – and these black guys (the characters and the actors) can look after themselves, surely. All I’m saying is Jeannette was interesting. Sierra too. And there was wild stuff always about to kick off over in that camp, I thought. See you next time, maybe.

 

The Reception – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006