20 July 2015-07-20

Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon in Mommy


Out This Week



Mommy (Metrodome, cert 15)

In bad drama people say just what they think; in real life they rarely do. Xavier Dolan, usually referred to as a wunderkind, understands this, and in this grungy new drama he pushes that realisation to the max with a story about Steve, a disruptive ADHD kid and his flaky mother. It’s an urgently brilliant film, that never dips into the well of mawkishness reserved for “social issue” films. And that’s even with an extra “issue” added – the next door neighbour, a former teacher whose nerves are shot to shit, who becomes the friend of this dysfunctional duo. The performances are gritty, the dialogue shocking (“I’m not being racist – he is a nigger,” says Steve in a typical outburst against a cab driver), and Dolan sets up a couple of scenes that are so intense I actually had to remind myself to breathe. In a small but brilliant cast, it’s probably wrong to single out Suzanne Clément for her amazing turn as the shell-shocked, stuttering, fragile neighbour Kyla – a counterpoint to the angry, agitated Steve that’s tender and obviously manipulative, though it never feels that way. You might also take issue with the attention-seeking way Dolan changes the aspect ratio of the picture from square to widescreen, to reflect Steve’s advance towards inner equilibrium and “normal life”. But, again, you might not. Either way, this is unmissable.

Mommy – Buy it/watch it at Amazon



The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount, cert U)

Wow. It’s taken 11 years for the Spongebob guys to make a sequel to his last film. It was a success, so I’ve no idea why so long. However, it’s worth the wait – there are about ten good jokes in the first five minutes alone, while live-action-element Antonio Banderas’s story about a pirate seeking a game-changing talisman is set up, before we shift to life below the waves. There, the simply animated Spongebob and his crew riff on the “there is no I in TEAM” mantras of the McJob culture in a story about the secret formula of the Krabby Patty – fast food so addictive even those at death’s door clamour to eat it. Spongebob works because it mainlines a vein abandoned by the other big players – the Looney Tunes world where shtick and the surreal rub shoulders, and pungent social comment is dispensed with a wink and a “hey”. Disney should make films like this, but can’t, being in hock to the notion that the global megacorp can only be a force for good – they simply couldn’t come up with a greed-personified character like Mr Krabs, it would ruin the merch roll-out in fast food chains. Disney probably wouldn’t go for Spongebob’s appalling, glass-etching laugh either.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Face of an Angel (Soda, cert 15)

It sounds like all sorts of wrong, but Michael Winterbottom’s take on the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Fox case actually turns out to be really worth watching. That’s largely because he abandons any afternoon-movie melodramatics about who did what to whom and instead explores the meta-level about whether we can ever know what happened. To do this he sets up two loosely interconnecting stories. In one Daniel Brühl plays a director with a string of flops to his name, hoping that a dramatisation of this case can give him the hit he so badly needs. In the other there’s Kate Beckinsale as a door-stepping journalist who uses charm and animal cunning to get her story. Over this, sweetly, Winterbottom starts playing out a Dante and Beatrice story, with Brühl’s director cast as a kind of latterday warrior-poet, student-waitress Cara Delevingne as the floaty virginal creature he is smitten by – you might well be too, her performances is one of remarkable gangly unaffectedness. If the meta-ness, the narrative layers, and the enquiry after truth, or how the search for it distorts it, reminds most strongly of Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy adaptation, A Cock and Bull Story, there are also obvious echoes of Charlie Kaufmann’s “struggling to write the film” movie Adaptation too, and some visual reminders of Roeg’s Italian film Don’t Look Now – reality and truth again a concern there. So what about poor 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, who died in Perugia in 2007 and whose life has been reduced to a footnote in Foxy Knoxy’s? In a coda Winterbottom deals with that too, as if to say that airy philosophising is all very well, but let’s spare a moment for someone to whom something tangible and horrible did happen. It’s a very humane, beautiful and tender way to wrap things up in an altogether intensely accomplished drama.

Face of an Angel – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Housebound (Metrodome, cert 18)

Good films are coming out of New Zealand right now, though they often seem to be comedic takes on established genres. What We Do in the Shadows took on the vampire movie, and quite a lot of the Twilight/Underworld appurtenances that have been strapped to it. Housebound does the same for the haunted house movie, yet somehow manages to be both funny and chilling. Morgana O’Reilly plays Kylie, a feisty young woman who, falling foul of the law, is ordered to wear an ankle tag and spend eight months cooped up in the house of her mother. This is particularly handy for us, because her mother is played by Rima Te Wiata, a brilliant comedy actress who can inflect a whole sentence with new meaning by a final raise of the eyebrow or a rapid-pan swivel of the eyes. The film is essentially a back and forth between mother and daughter as they move through the house trying to work out where various knocks and bangs are coming from, mindful of the fact that the house used to be some kind of juvenile institution. I did mention that the house was large and rambling? The film is a bit too, but it moves at pace and it’s funny. It also has an early Peter Jackson (of Braindead era) approach to splatter, an inventive way with household appliances used as weapons and it has that bald Kiwi matter of factness – “You can’t punch ectoplasm”, Kylie is told at one point, as if she had been trying to use an SDS drill bit in a standard chuck. Entirely enjoyable.

Housebound – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




The Tale of Princess Kaguya (StudioCanal, cert U)

Isao Takahata is the other guy from Studio Ghibli, the one who isn’t Hayao Miyazaki, Takahata being the one who directed Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko – so no slouch. Like Miyazaki, he seems fascinated with the wisdom of children, and in this story about a princess born magically out of a piece of bamboo, and then exploited for social advancement by her adoptive peasant parents, we’re in fairly familiar territory. It’s a beautifully realised world, a pre-industrial, sylvan idyll. There are thematic analogues of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, of a feisty child finding its way in a strange world. Of style, too, Takahata keeping it Ghibli-familiar with a rustic watercolour palette and technique, with there generally being one thing in each tableau that Takahata wants our eye drawn to – a leaf, a rivulet, a shock of hair. After a while, once Kaguya has grown up at lightning speed and been educated to princess level thanks to the heaps of money she can magically produce, the story transitions into something like a Scheherazade tale of a beautiful young woman trying to keep suitors at bay by using her wits, while her parents conspire to get her married into nobility and pronto. She, meanwhile, starts to long for the simple folk she grew up with. I know Princess Kaguya has had a lot of great reviews, but to be honest this Ghibli fan thought that while it was charming at the beginning, and again at the end, Takahata’s storytelling slowed down for no good reason in the middle, and I found myself checking my emails and glancing at stories from the daily papers. Sorry.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Adrift: People of a Lesser God (Simply, cert E)

This is the summer when the media are reporting on Africans risking their lives to get to Europe any how – usually by boat. But it’s been going on for some time, and was certainly well established when Dominique Mollard set out to make a “one man and his camera” documentary about the phenomenon in 2010. His preamble states that 60,000 sub-Saharan Africans made it to Spain between 2005 and 2009, and that more than half went via the Canaries, which lie 100 kilometres off the coast of Morocco. That’s a long way in a tiny pirogue, stuffed to the gills with queasy Africans, most of whom have never seen the sea before, and don’t realise that it can get very cold and wet out there. “Once you’ve reached a certain level of suffering, you can do anything” says one of Mollard’s interviewees. And if his documentary has a real value, it’s this: it puts a human face on a statistic; and explains why people risk death when supreme indifference (at best) awaits them at the other end. The emigrants call the trip to Europe “the fight”, tellingly, though it has to be said that there’s also a fight to be had with this documentary, which at 100 minutes is 20 minutes too long. Sure, Mauretania is interesting, and the people there have that long-boned grace of which supermodels are made. But there’s much too much of it, and things only really pick up once Mollard has sated his travelogue appetite and is positioned in the back of the boat, from where he can watch the tired, poor, huddled masses of illegals yearning to breathe free and bouncing over the waves to, they hope, a better life.

Adrift: People of a Lesser God – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Robot Overlords (Signature, cert 12)

Gillian Anderson and Ben Kingsley are the unnecessary adults lending a patina of maturity to what is in effect a modern manifestation of a Children’s Film Foundation adventure set in world where the robots have landed and the populace is confined to its suburban dwellings (handy when your budget isn’t so large). Our four kid heroes, in effect, rise up against the robot overlords and their human interlocutor, Ben Kingsley, but the key line of dialogue is “Let’s find dad; he’ll know what to do” – which could have been lifted direct from a CFF film of the early 1970s. In fact the vibe is even more old fashioned than that, with director Jon Wright going for a Second World War atmosphere – communal spirit evident, knees-ups surely just a minute away – which the Isle of Man location really lends itself to. Kingsley, as ever, gives it his all, huffing away like the pantomime villain he’s essentially playing, while Anderson is the stay-at-home mum he’s leching after, and who pines for the dad, absent, of course, as is necessary in these things. Our four kids are the Handsome One (Callan McAuliffe), the witty Ron Weasly type (James Tarpey), the snot-faced-kid-from-Love-Actually type (Milo Parker) and the hot-girl-in-training (Ella Hunt). All as it should be. The robot effects won’t give Roland Emmerich sleepless nights and if my tone sounds a bit snarky, the film itself is anything but. And that, really, is its big sell – its honest-to-goodness wide-eyed air of just getting on and doing it.

Robot Overlords – Watch it/buy it at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2015






13 July 2015-07-13

Ryan Reynolds and Gemma Arterton in The Voices


Out This Week


The Voices (Arrow, cert 15)

Marjane Satrapi has made a good film about a man with appalling schizophrenia. That she’s chosen to make it into a comedy, and has cast Ryan Reynolds as the disturbed guy who believes his pet cat and dog are talking to him shows she doesn’t lack for ambition. I suspect a lot of people won’t like The Voices at all, because a comedy about a man who likes to dismember people, and who is shown sawing them up and packing them neatly into many stacked Tupperware boxes like so many packed lunches, is, let’s face it, a bit gruesome. And he’s the “hero”. But Reynolds is excellent at shifting register depending on whether he’s on the meds or not, and Satrapi makes enough oblique references to Hitchcock’s Psycho to make it clear where she’s coming from. And since Psycho had female stars who shouldn’t die but do, step forward Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as Reynolds’s co-workers who… but I’m saying too much. A strange film, which starts and ends with a musical number, because – hey.

The Voices – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




The Gunman (StudioCanal, cert 15)

It’s easy to laugh at The Gunman, because it’s directed by Pierre Morel, who directed Taken, and is essentially Taken all over again, except with Sean Penn instead of Liam Neeson as the man with a “very particular set of skills”. Sean wants us to know he is more of a star than Neeson, more of an intellectual, is also an Oscar-winner, and a caring, sharing humanitarian kind of man as well, the Angelina Jolie of male actordom. And the laughs come from watching Penn’s assessment of himself turning a straightahead meat-and-potatoes actioner into something with bits hanging off everywhere – more exotic locations, more backstory for Penn, an “ethical” setting in the war-torn capitalist playground of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and so on. But it’s a geri-actioner at heart, though Penn does a number of shirt-off scenes just to remind us that he is, in fact, still hot at 55. Go, girl! Plot: After his past as a hired gunman starts to catch up with him, reformed bad guy Penn starts killing people who now seem out to kill him. Stars: Penn, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Idris Elba (no nobodies for Mr Penn). It is all entirely enjoyable, even watched straight as an actioner rather than as a diagnostic of Hollywood ego, and producer Sean Penn has even organised enough money for Morel to stage a big Hitchcockian finish in a bullring which, like the whole film, is entirely unnecessary.

The Gunman – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



Suite Française (E One, cert 15)

Frenchwoman Michelle Williams falls for decent Nazi Matthias Schoenaerts in occupied France in exactly the sort of nuanced, intelligent drama you’d expect from BBC Films. You’d expect Kristin Scott Thomas to be in it too, and here she is as Williams’s waspish mother-in-law, trying to keep the young woman away from Jerry’s Teutonic member until her brave soldier son comes back from the war. If the Second World War taught us anything, it’s that culture does not make us better people – the Nazis wept as they listened to Beethoven, then shovelled more innocent people into the ovens. However, this is a BBC production – and the BBC’s raison d’etre is cultural edification – and, wouldn’t you know it, Schoenaerts turns out to have been a composer before the war. His tasteful Chopin-like compositions are the sign of his inherent decency, as well as the prompt for Williams to lower the flag of hostility, and her knickers. Get beyond all this guff – nice people in pretty rural countryside, virtue obvious, middle classes triumphant etc – and there’s a more morally complex class-focused drama playing out somewhere beneath the chocolate box visuals, and Schoenaerts seems to be having a lot of fun playing Lt Bruno von Falk as a young Erich von Stroheim. You can almost see the neck brace.

Suite Francaise – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




A Pigeon Sat on a Branch… (Artificial Eye, cert 15)

The Swedish director Roy Andersson is an arthouse Benny Hill, a deadpan humourist whose sketch-like films show normal people in absurdist situations, or is that vice versa? He kicks off the last of his Living Trilogy (Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living being the other two) with three swift vignettes about dying – a man with ridiculous hair keels over at home while extracting a cork from a wine bottle; a dying woman in a hospital bed has the handbag she is clutching tightly to her person wrestled from her by one of her elderly children; a man lies dead on the floor in a self-service cafeteria and the cashier tries to give his food away (it’s already paid for). Then on we go to longer mini-stories, and after a while the characters starting to recur – viz Charles XII of Sweden, who turns up in a very 1950s-looking cafe on horseback, with troops and retinue. You don’t get extras, or passers-by, or lush locations in an Andersson film. It’s a very controlled flatlining kind of aesthetic, lit without shadows, devoid of snappy interchange or banter, this time building towards a tableau of woe. Much as I loved his earlier films in this series, this one didn’t grab me. I found it too distant, his point either being too obvious (middle class modern life, hey) or too abstruse (the way the past continues to intrude into daily life). Think of Tati without the laughs – though I quickly have to say Tati doesn’t make me laugh – and with a political agenda which, the more explicit it gets, the less revelatory it seems. And on top of this, I suspect that Andersson’s affectless shtick has been so widely recycled by admiring indie film-makers that its novelty has kind of worn off.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films (Metrodome, cert 18)

How the heart used to sink, back in the VHS day, when the words Cannon Group, in fuzzy electric blue, came up on the screen. This fabulous documentary tells the story of the two Israeli guys behind it, cousins Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus, who arrived in Hollywood after a few big hits, bought up the ailing Cannon and set about making films like a pair of schmutter merchants in the rag trade  –  “never mind the quality, feel the width”. They did the Death Wish films, they gave Chuck Norris a career, Dolph Lundgren has them to thank for his heyday. “There were cinemas out there that needed to be filled with something – and that’s what Cannon did,” says one happy talking head. This film is full of happy talking heads, in fact, full of stories about the guys’ have-a-go enthusiasm and half-baked artistry – how Franco Nero, star of Enter the Ninja, had no idea what a ninja even was. How Cannon’s epic, Sahara, appeared to be an unholy mix of Lawrence of Arabia, Blue Lagoon and The Great Race. Good films got made entirely by accident, it was all financed on dodgy money, they made the late career of Michael Winner (a weird, insecure and brutal man, says Alex Winter, one of many articulate witnesses to the Cannon madness gleefully spilling the beans). If it all sounds a bit like scapegoating, Mark Hartley’s film does come up with a few positives – Zeffirelli, Cassavetes, Godard and Schroeder all made films for Golan and Globus. The Cannon business model – sell the product before the product even exists – is now standard Hollywood practice. And the “Go-Go boys” were early into the realisation that the future was genre. Fascinating and highly enjoyable.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




The Wrecking Crew (Wienerworld, cert E)

One of the reason why American records of the 1960s sounded so good was that – ever since Frank Sinatra’s big successes of the mid 1950s at least – US record companies had taken pop music seriously, and had lavished fantastic studios and top-of-the-range recording gear and producers on it. In Britain, 1960s beat combos got two-track decks and whoever could be spared from the novelty records department to oversee them – Decca producer George Martin had been recording Peter Ustinov and The Goons before being waved towards the Beatles. The Americans also had really fine session musicians, such as the subject of this documentary. The Wrecking Crew is a name which the LA musicians it embraces never used themselves, since they weren’t a crew and didn’t work together as a unit. Instead they were a loose agglomeration of top rank musicians who would turn up and lay down backing tracks for Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis, Sonny and Cher, the Byrds or the Beach Boys. They were Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. They were the guys who made the Mission: Impossible TV theme music chirp. This is both their story and the story of one of their number, Tommy Tedesco, a crack guitarist who had long retired when his son Denny decided to make the film, and had died before it was completed. Denny’s MO is to sit the guys he can still find, including likeable, voluble bassist Carole Kaye (much used and admired by Brian Wilson), down at a table and to record them reminiscing, and intercut with archive footage and photographs. It makes for a fun, lively time, though Denny over-estimates the proportion of decorative banter that can be carried without a solid timeline and there aren’t enough examples of how the Crew did what they did – reveal their input on Good Vibrations, for example. He also lavishes too much attention on his dad at the expense of the others. The title of the item is The Wrecking Crew, after all, and that is kind of what I was expecting. For all the sense of an opportunity missed, this is still fascinating, the story of 1960s pop – of bands who couldn’t play and professionals who could. Mickee Dolenz of the Monkees pops up at this point, as do Peter Tork, Cher, Herb Alpert, Nancy Sinatra and Glen Campbell (a member of the Crew who went on to have success of his own).

The Wrecking Crew – Watch it/buy it at Amazon






© Steve Morrissey 2015



6 July 2015-07-06

Tizita Hagere in Difret


Out This Week


Still Alice (Curzon, cert 12)

Most disease of the week films operate on the same principle as Facebook posters who ask you to Like something or sign a petition – they’re daring you to say you don’t like puppies, or don’t want a cure for cancer, to out yourself as horrible. In Still Alice we meet Alice, an intensely capable linguistics professor (Julianne Moore), as she’s struggling for the right word while delivering a lecture, this being the blood-in-the-hankie sign that something serious is amiss. Her condition goes rapidly downhill from there. Moore is predictably good – tough, believable, often head-on to camera – and is surrounded by agile actors, including Kristen Stewart as the sulky daughter, Alec Baldwin as the uxorious husband. But it’s her story, and one of decline, with the standard piano and string quartet soundtrack to play on our heartstrings, though writer/directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (who died shortly after the film debuted) steer Alice away from pristine saintliness and toward dirty humanity – that’ll be the “pissing the jogger bottoms” scene. Perhaps that’s what won Moore her Oscar. If you like a good old bawl or believe watching people in distress makes you some kind of humanitarian, be my guest.

Still Alice – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Difret (Soda, cert 12)

Beautiful 14-year-old Ethiopian girl Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is abducted on the way home from school, raped and the told she is to marry the man who has just violated her – all according to local tradition. He clearly thinks she is going to take this lying down, so to speak, but she doesn’t, and makes a run for it when he leaves a door ajar, taking his gun with her. Minutes later he is dead, and she is being accused by her abductors of murder – their actions against her only a crime in a rights-based western culture. Enter beautiful feminist lawyer Meaza (Meron Getnet) to fight Hirut’s corner and the stage is set for a clash of men and women, the old ways and the new. Director Zeresenay Mehari may have watched a few too many episodes of Perry Mason and other creaky US TV shows to satisfy the died-in-the-wool ethnic cinema brigade, but she irons out the odd moment of ragged amateurism and flatlit glibness with fabulous performances from her small but impressive cast, and a keen eye for a well placed camera. Nor is she blind to the call of tradition – this is no good v bad screed, though it’s clear where Mehari’s sympathies lie. A fascinating and true story which also opens our eyes to the beauty of rural Ethiopia, a country often associated (in my mind, at least) with famine and hardship.

Difret – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Black Coal, Thin Ice (StudioCanal, cert 15)

“Echoes of Tarantino and Fincher”, it said on the press release, a lift from the Daily Telegraph’s review. But the director I most got a sense of from this film was John Huston. Because what we have here is a very old-school noir, with a tricky plot and trickier dames and a troubled but virtuous cop trying to work out who’s killing the dismembered men who keep turning up in the coal heaps outside power stations in various parts of China. This focus on dirty industry reinforces the Hustonesqueness, as does director Diao Yinan’s use of night-time shooting in the sort of rickety locations that must be on the point of disappearing from rapidly modernising China – an old ballroom whose dancers shuffle in the glow of a red bulb, a cafe with wipe-clean surfaces where basic food can be bought for basic prices, a street where an ice-truck is delivering to houses who have no refrigerator. Diao even throws in a bit of back-projection where he doesn’t actually need to, as if to further nudge us. And like The Maltese Falcon, the plot doesn’t matter as much as the mood; who actually did it is a kind of irrelevance – the fascination of the man (Liao Fan) for the doll-like, possibly black-widow dame (Gwei Lun Mei) is what really matters. And the cold, the intense wintry cold, which makes every utterance in the outdoors rise in a plume of condensing vapour, like truth becoming momentarily visible, then… pfft.

Black Coal, Thin Ice – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Lauda: the Untold Story (Bulldog, cert PG, DVD/digital)

Having no interest in Formula 1 but an admiration for the Ron Howard/Peter Morgan film Rush, about the (largely manufactured) rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, I approached this documentary about the Austrian driver with ambivalence. But it turns out to have been worth the time. Lauda features heavily in recently recorded conversation, as do most of the important team mates and rivals of the time. The time being the 1970s, “when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe,” as Jackie Stewart once said. Lauda’s spectacular crash in the 1976 Grand Prix at Nürburgring – which saw his car spin off the track, hit a wall at 200kph, burst into flames, then get hit by another car, consigning the driver to a hospital where the last rites were read – acts as some kind of fulcrum for a film that wants to be both about Lauda and racing safety, and it makes a pretty good fist of keeping the two balls in play. Why it succeeds so well is because it has a German interest in how things work, in facts, rather than glamour – so we get an interesting history of the Nürburgring (a job creation scheme by Kaiser Wilhelm II, not a Hitler project, as I’d thought). We get a nice potted history of Lauda, himself, which has plenty of pre-crash footage shot for Austrian TV to rely on. We get a chapter on motor-racing’s evolution – from open roads to race tracks. And a section on how Lauda and others (Jackie Stewart quite important here) started to address the issue of a world-famous F1 driver dying pretty much every season, because there weren’t enough marshals, tracks were inherently unsafe, and there was no adequate medical help if something did go wrong. “At no point in my career did I ever consider death”, says former F1 driver David Coulthard, one of many contributors (including Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) who benefited from the campaigning of the generation who came before them. But again and again the film comes back to Lauda, still smart, quick and incredibly cool, and with a wit so dry that it’s often hard to tell that he’s being funny. He makes this film the joy it is.

Lauda: the Untold Story – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



Hyena (Metrodome, cert 18)

A frustrating mix of the terribly familiar and the refreshingly brutal, Hyena is further hamstrung by its need to give everyone involved something to say. This is possibly because so many of its support players – Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Richard Dormer – are so brilliant at what they do that they really deserve to be given some air. They do – just not here. The star, though, Peter Ferdinando, he can carry on doing in film after film what he’s doing here and I’ll be perfectly happy. It’s the old bent cop act, this one being so far into bad-guy territory that we have only a ghost of an idea how deep he has gone. Or if we are fairly sure how far in he’s waded – he’s hoovering up piles of cocaine, is buddies with Turkish heroin smugglers, loves a bit of violence, and so on – we’re not sure if he’s exhausted by his duplicity. If duplicity it is. All very fine until Dormer’s internal affairs cop starts poking his nose in, and old buddy Graham – now the head of European vice – sets Ferdinando off on a date with reckoning. It’s all set in the purlieus of a believably seedy West London, has a nicely nervy soundtrack by the director Gerald Johnson’s brother Matt (aka The The) and looks great, but it needs either letting out a bit more, and turning into a TV series, or taking in an bit, focusing more on Ferdinando and less on his team of weird operatives – watching ripped-to-the-tits, straight, middle-aged guys dancing to Sylvester’s Do You Want to Funk is genuinely funny, but if this isn’t their story, then do we need to see so much of them? However, a wild ride with some glorious moments.

Hyena – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Second Coming (Kaleidoscope, cert 15)

In the UK, as in the US, being black is still too often seen only as a social issue. How refreshing, then, to get a story about a black family whose skin colour is entirely incidental; it’s just an aspect, not the entire identity. And as if to shuck off the whole “social problem” label, writer/director Debbie Tucker Green goes one stage further, injecting a touch of magic realism into a film whose MO, superficially, looks to be the entire opposite. Because what this looks like is a kitchen-sinker, in which the wife (Nadine Marshall) realises she’s pregnant and the husband (Idris Elba), when he finds out, completely loses it – he hasn’t “been near her” for months. If you were to dramatise that bit in the bible where Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant with the child of God himself, Green seems to be saying, it would look a lot more like this than all that “behold, unto us a child is given…” of scriptural familiarity. Do they sit comfortably together, these two dramatic styles – the highly realistic and the supernatural? The dialogue rattles along at such a speed – semi-improvised? – that I was looking for subtitles which my review disc didn’t have. And the otherworldly aspect is introduced so obliquely that you could easily miss it. To answer the question, I’m not entirely sure. But that might be my prejudices – how dare black people in blue-collar London, speaking slang and what have you, stray from the kitchen sink, unless it’s to buy drugs or a knife. The acting I was more comfortable with – it’s really fantastic, Marshall and Elba banging back and forth off each other, Kai Francis Lewis as their nature-loving son on whose face register the emotions the others are often withholding. A star of the future.

Second Coming – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



The Admiral: Roaring Currents (StudioCanal, cert 15)

Old Boy’s Choi Min-sik turns up in a “hasn’t he aged” role as Admiral Yin, a Korean naval hero famous for defending the country against a Japanese fleet, by using the “roaring currents” of local waters (a whirlpool included) to turn his 13 ships into a force that could take on around 300 of the enemy’s. Clearly made for home consumption, it’s a big old Sunday afternoon epic, with Yin presented as the stoic, silent commander who keeps his cool as his cabinet are mutinying around him, and organises a fightback that none can understand. If Yin is virtue personified, his foes are almost laughably villainous, and it helps immeasurably that Japanese headgear often resemble Darth Vader’s (George Lucas lifted quite a lot of inspiration from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, so it figures). But never mind the people, this film is all about the battle, and when it finally comes it is long and well staged, bloody and indeed ingenious. A few more establishing shots would have made clearer exactly who was doing what and when, and there are a couple of plot strands that are so thin it’s almost as if director Kim Han-min is saying, “Yeh, a woman who cannot speak, you know what emotional register I’m aiming for – you fill in the gaps.” But Kim does establish flavour, and he’s good on technology – propulsion was by ranks of oarsmen sweating below decks; firearms are beautiful and matchlock-operated; arrows carrying fiery payloads are used when cannon can’t be swung into action. If that sentence has woken up your inner battle nerd, this film, heavy with ragged CG though it is, is probably for you.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2015