27 April 2015-04-27

Michael Keaton in the air in Birdman

Out in the UK This Week

Birdman (Fox, cert 15)

And coming right out of the sun to bag this year’s Best Picture Oscar, a director whose films had become increasingly up themselves, and a star whose career looked increasingly over, in one of the most purely enjoyable yet also intelligent films in years. It’s a reminder of the sort of film Hollywood used to produce in the 1930s, with screwball comedy clearly the inspiration for this backstage farce about a once-upon-a-time superhero actor (Michael Keaton) and his attempt to re-invent himself by acting in, producing and directing a stage performance of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, having discovered levity since 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful, keeps the camera constantly in motion – I read somewhere that the entire film is all one continuous shot, but if it is it isn’t distractingly so – while Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts and in particular Edward Norton all play monstrous versions of fragile egomaniac actors.

A heady blend of absolute artificiality and an in-your-face realism, the film works in juxtapositions – screen or stage, popularity or status, backstage and frontstage, acting and reality. What it isn’t is even vaguely what the marketing suggested it was – some sort of comedy about a faded superhero. And yet it is that too. I didn’t mention Emma Stone or Zach Galifianakis, both also remarkable in an entirely accessible film that’s about as arthouse as Hollywood gets.

Birdman – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The problem with most biopics is the dread tendency to hop from one headline to the next. The best ones – such as Hunger, Lawrence of Arabia or Ray – tend to be about people we don’t know that much about.

And what exactly do we know about Stephen Hawking? That he’s been in a wheelchair with some degenerative disease which was meant to have killed him off decades ago, and that he’s immensely clever, at some sort of Einsteinian cosmological level, and that he wrote a book, The Brief History of Time, that nobody read. Not much, in other words.

Which is possibly why this is one of the few biopics that works really well. I must say I wasn’t expecting this at all, what with The Theory of Everything being from Working Title, who seem to have been in a bit of a lull lately (I Give It a Year, Les Misérables, The World’s End, About Time – I realise I’m on my own with most of this list). But WT’s straight-ahead, mainstream tendencies are just right for this story about two people from old-school middle classes – jumpers and classical music – who meet at Oxford university and marry and have children. And then one of them becomes a world class physicist even as his body starts to pack in. And the other, she becomes the stay-at-home wife and all-purpose saint (let’s not forget that the film is based on the memoirs of Jane, the first Mrs Hawking).

Eddie Redmayne delivers more than just an Oscar-baiting Dalek in a wheelchair. His performance is canny. While still fully mobile, for instance, he gives us a foreshadowing of the famous Hawking rictus, which informs us that it’s the residue of an impish grin. Felicity Jones, meanwhile, takes another step closer to a future Oscar with her turn as the brightly practical Jane.

It’s a nimble film, ironic considering who it’s about, flitting from one revelatory episode to another, never banging a drum when a whisper will do – How exactly did Hawking father those children when he could barely move? Did Jane and Stephen have a tacit understanding about her womanly needs being satisfied elsewhere? Was Hawking’s relationship with his nurse (Maxine Peake) and future second wife based on a shared interest in porn? It’s all there, but in tasteful dead flat shades that won’t frighten the horses.

The Theory of Everything – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Duke of Burgundy (Artificial Eye, cert 18)

I’ve seen three films by Budapest-domiciled Brit Peter Strickland. The first was Katalin Varga, a remarkable revenge movie shot in a pastiche East European style. Then came the giallo pastiche of Berberian Sound Studio. Now, another pastiche, this time of the sort of lesbian-tinged dramas turned out by the likes of Jess Franco in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The story follows two women who live in seclusion in an old aristocratically appointed house – one is the haughty grande dame (Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen), the other (Chiara D’Anna) is the slave she makes demands of. And when her servant makes a mistake, then there’s a sexual price to pay. It’s the sort of film where keyholes figure prominently, everyone speaks in that post-dubbed Euro-arthouse style, boots are worn, massages given, a seamed stocking is removed, dust hangs in the air and the light flares in the lens as the camera zooms in, where the voice of a breathy popstrel lilts on the soundtrack, where two bodies arch in … you get the idea.

Strickland adds a wry plot twist – which I won’t give away – but even so the law of diminishing returns is in operation with The Duke of Burgundy (a character who never appears and is never even referred to). Strickland’s budgets are getting bigger, along with his ambition, but he spends so much time getting the look right – the “trainspotting” as he calls it – that he seems to have forgotten about crafting an engaging drama. Copy Franco by all means, but remember he was a fabulous stylist but lousy at dramatics. And, Peter, no nipples. Why not?

The Duke of Burgundy – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Dreamcatcher (Dogwoof, cert E)

The ho’s and pimps stereotype of rap video gets a handbrake turn in documentarian Kim Longinotto’s profile of the remarkable Brenda Myers-Powell, the former prostitute who now patrols the streets of Chicago trying to persuade working girls to join her Dreamcatcher Foundation. She wants to help them “catch a dream”.

Without exception the women she meets are victims of poverty, bad education, exploitation, addiction or desperation, or they’ve just wound up on the streets having been more or less groomed for the job since birth. Most of them look beat up. Myers-Powell indefatigably dons wigs and fine clothes to tour schools and conventions, talking to the at-risk and the professionals, about her work on what is the sex-worker equivalent of the AA program.

Longinotto has good access – we see plenty of Brenda, at home, flopped on her bed; we meet the guy who used to be her pimp, and who now works for her (Myers-Powell observes with a laugh). If we perhaps get more of the Myers-Powell domestic situation than seems strictly necessary, as part of a package about a fireball on a mission it’s acceptable. How effective Myers-Powell actually is, we never find out.

Dreamcatcher – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I Need a Dodge! Joe Strummer on the Run (Tindog, cert E)

In the early 1980s, having thrown most of the Clash out of the band, Joe Strummer fled to Spain, where he laid low for a few months licking his wounds. You couldn’t do this now, of course; Twitter brooks no holidays. And while there, off the radar entirely, he started hanging out with various up-and-coming musicians on the local scene, the band 091 most notably.

A documentary consisting of perhaps too much reminiscence by the band members – who must have been very young then because 30 years later they’re still only in early middle age (or it’s the Mediterranean diet) – this fits neatly into that “wilderness years” category created by Richard Olivier’s fabulous Transit Ostend doc, about Marvin Gaye’s time hiding out in the Belgian ferry port.

Except director Nick Hall doesn’t have the footage that Olivier had. In fact he’s got a cassette recording of Strummer being interviewed on Spanish radio, plus all those talking heads, the British ones (eg the members of Clash 2 and Strummer’s former partner Gaby Salter) now in their rock anecdotage, the Spanish still hunched in an echo of the “we’re not worthy” poses they must have been pulling in Granada way back when.

Linking all these elements is the half-hearted story of Strummer’s missing Dodge car which might exist now only as a bit of rock apocrypha – certainly no one can agree on what colour it was. But, you know, it works. It isn’t a particularly expertly made film. It’s more in the “chuck it together and we’ll come up with a tune as we go” punk ethos. But it has something to say about the man and the times. Or maybe it’s just that it’s achingly nostalgic. And maybe that’s enough.

I Need a Dodge: Joe Strummer on the Run – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Late Phases: Night of the Wolf (Metrodome, cert 18)

I’ve enjoyed a few films Nick Damici was involved in. On watching Late Phases, I remembered that it was Damici’s writing I’d admired (Mulberry Street, Cold in July and Stake Land all injecting bite into potentially routine horror-genre fodder). Here, he’s acting. Nothing wrong with his acting either. But in all honesty I don’t think I can recommend this werewolf movie, though it does have a neat twist – the shapeshifting lycanthrope is targeting the old, not the young. Damici plays the Vietnam-veteran tough bastard moving reluctantly into a gated community full of geriatrics, where he’s patronised by the local police and drooled over by ladies who behave as if the only other man they’ve seen in years is the cosmetic surgeon.

All very promising, this mix of characters, the setting and the potential questions it poses – When do you finally admit that you’re old old? In what small ways are the old made to feel as if they’re just in the way? And how in particular is approaching the end of life going to impact the boomer generation, carriers of the mythic torch of youth?

Writer Eric Stolze and director Adrián García Bogliano touch on these ideas only to abandon them, unfortunately. Instead they focus on the werewolves. Here, bad creature effects let them down. And they let themselves down too: having failed to detail exactly this old soldier’s erection of elaborate Home Alone defences when he realises the creatures are coming, we’re denied the joy of procedural set-up and delivery as the traps are sprung.

Late Phases aka Night of the Wolf – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Fellini Satyricon (Eureka, cert 18)

This gorgeous, plausibly grainy 4K restoration of Fellini’s 1969 “sci-fi” movie about ancient Rome looks very much like Fellini’s attempt to out-Pasolini Pasolini – the handsome young men, the sexual goings-on, the lush mis-en-scène, the North African touches. But it lacks Pasolini’s gaiety (in every sense of the word) and is, for all its visual merits, heavy-handed in terms of satire (pre-Christian Rome is like post-Christian modern Italy, you say?).

Telling the story of the long-legged Encolpio (Martin Potter) and his teasing falling-out with his friend Ascilto (Hiram Keller), and then digressing into stories within stories, it looks like a director deliberately pandering to the arthouse porn crowd, Fellini injecting a sex scene every few minutes, when he’s not getting a man into a loincloth or a woman into a headdress. Or is he advertising for a job as a theatre designer?

When it came out, with Fellini’s name attached and La Dolce Vita and behind him, it was almost impossible to point out that this film is dramatically inert – and Fellini certainly keeps the camera swinging and the actors laughing their big operatic laughs and lunging at each other, as if that way we might not notice what’s not going on. But the “tell” is in the title – look, it is by I, the great Fellini, he says, protesting too much.

Looks good, though, undeniably. Would it have been improved if Terence Stamp had been in it, instead of Potter, which was the original intention? A touch, perhaps.

Fellini Satyricon – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

© Steve Morrissey 2015

20 April 2015-04-20

Amy Adams as the Big Eyes artist Margaret Keane


Out in the UK This Week



Annie (Sony, cert PG)

The “Black Annie” this has been called. With the button-cute Beast of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis in the lead as Annie and Jamie Foxx in the Daddy Warbucks role and with Jada Pinkett and Will Smith producing, you could call it that, if these things matter to you. If they don’t, what you get is perhaps the epitome of the “turn that frown upside down” musical, carefully updated – Annie is no longer an orphan but a foster kid, Foxx is a cell phone billionaire, a couple of new songs have been added to the familiar ones (Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here), and a light glaze of hip hop has been applied throughout. The story remains the same – can the little parentless girl with a big heart find someone to look after her? In spite of all the good things in it, Annie has picked up a number of negative reviews, though they’re often from the same people who thought Chicago was a finely sung, expertly danced affair, when in fact it looked and sounded like a panic at an abattoir. This is a much better film and musical than the 1982 version, though things do admittedly go badly deeply wrong in the big chase finish. But until then the songs have entertained, its singers have been in good voice (some tweaked with autotune), the performances – Cameron Diaz’s mad, badly directed turn apart – have been right on the money, and there have been two carefully orchestrated emotional moments when director Will Gluck has demanded stinging eyes and a lump in the throat and got them. From me, anyway. This Annie, panned in advance of viewing in many quarters, I suspect, will have a second coming.

Annie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Frequencies (Signatures, cert 15)

Frequencies’ early scenes take place at a bizarre school for geniuses where the unspoken rules of social status have been turned into written test results so no one makes any mistakes and cosies up to someone inappropriate, at the school or in later life. And yet somehow the very high frequency Marie-Curie Fortune and the negatively endowed Isaac Newton Midgeley do indeed swing into each other’s orbits, which sets off a desire in him to have her – in any way he can. The result is romance of the Notting Hill sort – him blundering dunce, her unattainable hottie – done as low budget sci-fi with the odd acting wobble, Daniel Fraser playing the engaging adult Isaac, while Eleanor Wyld as the grown-up Marie-Curie is the sort of blonde frosty-knickered lovely who has men chewing their knuckles. We’ll be seeing a lot more of them, as well as writer/director Darren Paul Fisher, who has not only come up with a good idea but also knows how to flesh it out with believable supernerd dialogue. It’s the Big Bang Theory without the jokes, with a squirt of Misfits hormones, if you like. The whole thing is packed with Big Ideas (free will and determinism, language as a viral meme, the source of creativity) and yet is entirely accessible, though towards the end Fisher throws in a Secret Service subplot that smacks of kitchensink-itis.

Frequencies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Dumb and Dumber To (Universal, cert 15)

Sneaked onto DVD with barely any fanfare, the proper sequel to 1995’s Dumb and Dumber pretty much carries on where Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels left off – being astonishingly stupid and generating lowbrow laughs, in a loose road movie comedy vaguely about finding a kidney for Harry (Daniels). Because the leads are very good at it, this is a surprisingly funny film. What’s more, the Farrelly brothers have drafted in the Hot Tub Time Machine writers Sean Anders and John Morris to supplement work done by them and frequent collaborators Bennett Yellin and Mike Cerrone. In the process a little button marked “genuine bad taste humour” has been flicked back to the on position – so jokes about intruding on parents’ grief at the death of a child, how to react when you realise your daughter has started menstruating, old ladies’ vaginas, Aids (hey, remember the 1990s?). But most breathtaking is the treatment they dish out to Kathleen Turner – kicking off with Lloyd and Harry mistaking her for a man and going pretty much down the “my oh my what happened to your looks” route from there. She gives it back, in spades. And is, in fact, the film’s standout, the funniest thing in it.

Dumb and Dumber To – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (Warner, cert 12)

Though he can never be forgiven for turning a thin book into three dialysis-necessitating instalments of sword-and-sorcery, beard-and-balderdash, Peter Jackson’s last tranche of hobbitry is actually a surprisingly nimble affair, especially considering that it is, as the title suggests, little more than a big battle. I’m going to say no more about it than the following, which apply to a greater or lesser extent to all of Jackson’s runic oeuvre, since by now you’re either down with all the “Bolg, spawn of Azog the Defiler” stuff or you’re not. Here goes: very nice to see Christopher Lee as a sprightly ninja wizard this time out, thanks to the magic of CG; Billy Connolly’s arrival as a dwarfish clan leader finally injects a few seconds of humanity and humour into what has been too often a constipated journey; Cate Blanchett, Evangeline Lilly and all the female roles should simply be cut out (tweedy Oxford don Tolkien didn’t know what to do with women either); Jackson’s faith in CG is misplaced and his films are already looking as ropey in places as 1949’s Samson and Delilah, when Victor Mature wrestled a stuffed lion; the fantasy thing is over – we now want science, not magic (see Gravity, Interstellar and any number of low-budget, idea-rich sci-fis, including the above Frequencies, for proof); that helicopter shot of the high New Zealand mountains, with their sparkling air, that’s over too. Next!

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



Exodus: Gods and Kings (Fox, cert 12)

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood spent so much time and effort explicitly NOT referencing Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood that in the end the trumpeting of the elephant in the room drowned out everything else. Exodus: Gods and Kings – about Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt – repeats the mistake. Starting with an unwieldy title designed to distract, it then proceeds down a path that prefers rational explanation to divine intervention as it tells the story of the emancipation of the Chosen People – avoiding comparison with Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments like the… er… plague. Thus the parting of the Red Sea is shown as a tidal phenomenon, the manifestations of frogs, locusts and what have you are similarly waved away as eco-system malfunctions rather than god’s hand at work. As for Moses (played by an unremarkable, only semi-gruff Christian Bale), well he’s the leader of a rebel army, Moshe Dyan (or some other warrior leader of modern Israel) in biblical garb, while Joel Edgerton’s Pharaoh is essentially the callous CEO of Egypt Inc (“From an economic standpoint alone…” he prefaces one reply to a request to set the Jews free). Though not many modern male execs wear eyeliner, I grant you, at least in public. Ridley Scott knows what he isn’t doing – DeMille – but that isn’t exactly a plan. So he defaults, as he does in these situations, back to advertising-man mode. This means that individual elements of Exodus are well done – the plagues are nicely handled, with animal carcases piling up everywhere. But Scott repeatedly relies on long, directorly crane shots taken at a grandiloquent “you don’t get this on TV” pace (note to Scott: you do), which Alberto Iglesias’s score echoes with a sub-Wagnerian trembling that strikes into epic mode when it can get hold of anything. But generally, like Scott, Iglesias is just flapping about, vamping. Apart from its representation of God as a small kid, a rare good idea in a screenplay thrown together with a casual regard for grammar, this is a lousy, boring film that makes 40 years in the wilderness seem entirely understandable.

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Big Eyes (EV, cert 12)

Amy Adams plays the artist Margaret Keane, Christoph Waltz the husband who claimed her “big eyed” paintings were his in Tim Burton’s muted, pretty biog which sees him returning to the 1950s Tupperware moodboard which gave him his biggest artistic success – Edward Scissorhands. What to say about Big Eyes? Adams doesn’t really know what to do with Keane – whether to play her as an utter dimbo or as a woman under extreme psychological duress. Did Margaret go along with the deception because that way she became rich (ie she was a hero of sorts), or did Mr Keane browbeat her to such an extent, using his undoubted gift of the gab, that she just acquiesced (ie a victim)? Waltz, for his part, seems to be mainlining one of Disney’s Wolf characters – all eyebrows and drool. A half-hearted feminist screed is the result either way. More poignantly, here’s a story about an artist being denied ownership of her work, presented by Tim Burton, an auteur now in bed with the Weinsteins, the “fixers” of films with a golden touch for the middlebrow. That’s a much more painful and much more gripping life-mirrors-art story right there.

Big Eyes – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Field Punishment No 1 (Odyssey, cert 15)

Field punishment No 1 is being tied to a forward-leaning pole on tippy toes and being left out there in the weather all day – and if it’s snowing out there, then… It’s the treatment meted out to Archibald Baxter, one of the Kiwi conscientious objectors that this clearly made-for-TV film focuses on. The time is the first World War and the place is the front line in France, where conscripts from all over the British Empire have been shipped, whether they want to fight or not. Peter Burger’s film works hard to dispel any notion that the conchies in question are cowards or sissies – Baxter is portrayed as a man’s man as robust of mouth and strong of arm as any other. The war he’s attempting not to fight is the senseless-waste-of-human-life version familiar from most films about the First World War, and the guys he’s standing alongside are the recognisable “lions led by donkeys”. Vaguely English Patient in structure – privation recalled from a hospital bed – it’s a well acted film (Fraser Brown is a stoic, Buddha-like Baxter, Byron Coll impressive as the gobbie, socialist version of the refusnik objector) and full of little details that hit home (the way the fighting men’s faces are covered in sores). Though this true story is slightly marred by the slightly hagiographic tone.

Field Punishment No. 1 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2015





13 April 2015-04-13

Laurence Fishburne and Lin Shaye meet


Out in the UK This Week



The Signal (E One, cert 15)

An underrated sci-fi adventure about three young hacktivists who are abducted by aliens and then wake up in a clinical facility where Laurence Fishburne and co – all in hazmat suits – are looking after them. We arrive at the facility about 15 minutes in to the film, so I haven’t given away much of the plot, which uses tropes of Close Encounters, The Matrix and Vincent Natali’s Cube to great effect. Director William Eubank ties it all together with clean and precise direction of his stars (Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cook, Beau Knapp), and the Mogwai-meets-Wendy Carlos soundtrack by Nima Fakhrara lifts it yet another notch. If I were being picky I’d say it moves from the “getting to know you” first act to the “let’s get out of here” third act with not very much actual development – plot or character – in between. But this time it’s forgivable, because this is a good story well told, with a sparing use of special effects which, when they hit, have a neutron-bomb precision and effect. Ignore whatever else you’ve read about this – some people only wake up when Tom Cruise or Marvel or DC are involved in something – it’s very well worth checking out.

Full review here.

The Signal – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




What We Do in the Shadows (Metrodome, cert 15)

Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement takes on the vampire genre, rescuing it from the damp grasp of the Twihards etc and lighting a fire under its cape. Feeling like a series of sketches just about held together by a loose narrative, the action follows a group of undead bloodsuckers who house-share in New Zealand, who go out together in the evening to clubs, where one night they meet and befriend a human, whom they decide not to eat/drink/kill/whatever. That’s it in terms of plot, enough to link the various jokes together, which involve one or other of the vampires, who handily represent most manifestations of the type – one’s a pale, shivering Nosferatu (called Peter), another a Vlad the Impaler, another knits rather camply, and so on. And when these jokes threaten to pall, Clement and co-writer/director/star Taika Waititi brings in the werewolves, the big joke here being that the antipathy between the two groups (Twilight again, but also Underworld) is essentially schoolyard yah-boo stuff. This allows Rhys Darby to utter the film’s funniest line, which I won’t ruin by repeating. It’s a very funny film, and even though it feels like it’s about grind to a halt at any second, it never does.

What We Do in the Shadows – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Snow in Paradise (Curzon, cert 15)

The snow is in fact cocaine, half-inched by cadet criminal Dave right at the start of this geezer drama, the ramifications of which echo right to the end. No, the world doesn’t need another London criminal drama, but this one punches well above its weight. That’s largely because of Frederick Schmidt’s tough yet tender playing of Dave – a star is born, surely – because the film has a plot which uses Muslims as an interesting, atypical (these day) spiritual counterweight to the venality out in the big bad world, because director Andrew Hulme impressionistically locates us in Dave’s head as his life goes from shit to bust, and because of Kevin Pollard’s heavily jazz tinged soundtrack. It’s not your typical geezer pleaser, in other words, as if Hulme has set out to make an anti-Guy Ritchie film, and succeeded.

Snow in Paradise – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Kon-Tiki (Soda, cert 15)

Destined for release in 2012, this Norwegian adventure about the making of national hero Thor Heyerdahl has taken a while to hit any sort of screen. And halfway through, as directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg give us an overhead shot of a whale shark cruising menacingly beneath his balsa wood boat, you understand why – 2012 was the year of Life of Pi. Heyerdahl’s adventure used to be the stuff of childhood mythologies – how this Norwegian anthropologist set out to prove that the Polynesians had crossed the Pacific using Palaeolithic technology – and it lends itself to a big screen treatment. All those handsome blond men, the blue sea, the sun, big marine beasts, phosphorescence, flying fish, epic storms, desertlike calms and so on, all the paraphernalia of the ocean-going adventure. And it is adventurous, even if the budget doesn’t quite stretch to the sort of period accuracy we now demand – especially in the early, money-raising sequences in a supposedly 1940s New York – and even if some of the actual adventurers, especially as they start to disappear behind variously ginger beards, become interchangeable.

Kon-Tiki – Watch it/ buy it at Amazon




Predestination (Signature, cert 15)

A few years ago Ethan Hawke made Daybreakers with the Aussie Spierig brothers. It was an unusual take on the vampire genre – the vampires were in charge and it was humans who skulked around the edges. The Spierigs are doing something similarly offbeat with the time-travel story, and they’ve got Hawke back involved, as a time-travelling bar tender listening to the strange late-night story of one of his patrons. He turns out to have been born a she, and has journeyed through time attempting to … what, exactly? I’m not sure, but starting a story with a “once upon a time there was this time-travelling hermaphrodite” is so unusual that our interest is piqued. This strange creature’s story is certainly wild, like a Douglas Sirk film on some bizarre modern drugs – mad improbability, emotional turmoil, despair, redemption, all done in flashback and intoned in gruff tones by the remarkable Sarah Snook, who looks like a 21-year-old Leo DiCaprio. If she always also somehow resembles the beautiful woman she is, Snook is nevertheless sensational as this time travelling curiosity, while the Spierigs’ decision to tell us that time travel was invented in 1981 tips the wink as to what they’re about – this is idea-rich, plot driven sci-fi of the sort that the 1980s excelled in (Terminator, Total Recall), and if it never ever looks “real” (the bar the entire story is told from looks lifted from a daytime soap where the script has indicated “Bar: interior”), that’s because the Spierigs are playing with the pastiche, rather than trying to get it right. So, as they head towards the climax and the time paradoxes start to fall over each other, there’s no point complaining that “it doesn’t all add up”. Audacity is the whole point. Watch back to back with Daybreakers. Why not?

Predestination – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Black Sea (Universal, cert 15)

A submarine adventure set in a sea where the Nato/Russian empires catch and starring Jude Law as the sea dog getting a motley crew of superannuated good old boys and unfashionable ethnics together to find Nazi gold. It’s The Italian Job meets every submarine adventure you’ve ever seen – the law states you can’t set a film on a sub without there being some deep-sea jeopardy. To the clearly recession-influenced script, writer Dennis Kelly adds plenty of paranoia – as befits the man who gave us Utopia on TV – and has a great if mostly underused cast to help him out. Why cast actors of the calibre of David Threlfall, Scoot McNairy and Grigoriy Dobrynin only to waste them? To secure funding, I suspect (a Brit, an American and a Russian, respectively). Only Aussie Ben Mendelsohn cuts through, but then he is playing a bit of a wild-eyed loon whose increasingly unhinged behaviour precipitates the crisis that sends the vessel to the bottom of the sea – that’s no spoiler, surely. Ultimately, as Law gets a touch of Mad Captain’s Disease and things go a bit Hunt for Red October, it’s clear that this is a collation of tasty cold cuts that needs a unifying theme or a look or a chutney to hold it all together. Director Kevin Macdonald seems fresh out of all of them.

Black Sea – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Maidan (Dogwoof, cert E)

Footage from Maidan Square, Kiev, as the pro-Europe demonstrations of 2013 morphed into the anti-government revolution of 2014, the ramifications of which we’re still watching. Notably, there’s no commentary at all, just a camera in the crowd watching fairy statically. It’s the atmosphere that stands out – like a free festival, it’s full of ramshackle, impromptu outbursts of song and good cheer, all comers are welcome, the fringe dwellers are in there with the mass, call-and-response eruptions of “Glory to the Ukraine; Glory to the Heroes” are common. On the downside the lack of organising principle means a lack of plot, and your interest in (“enjoyment of” seems to be the wrong phrase in the circumstances) of this report from a key moment in recent European history will depend on your political engagement. For me, as with news reports from the war in Bosnia in the early 1990s, I’m struck by how obviously European this former Soviet colony looks – those streets could be Berlin or Paris or Madrid. And how, as the government increase the pressure and bring in water cannon and tear gas, how much like an older Europe Sergei Loznitsa’s camera makes it look – of the wide, people-strewn higgledy-piggledy canvases of Hieronymus Bosch.

Maidan – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2015