8 June 2015-06-08

Mark Stanley as a soldier in a minefield in Kajaki

 

Out This Week

 

 

Kajaki (Spirit, cert 15)

To find a really good, really British war film (so, no, not Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down or Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, both of which are over-rated) you have to go back a very very long way. Or watch Kajaki, which is out right now.

It’s a simple, brutal and unflinching portrait of the gruesomeness of war, the camaraderie of the fighters and the raw bravery in the face of sheer terror which extreme situations reveal. Told with the straightahead simplicity and bleach-bright looks that bring to mind Ice Cold in Alex, it follows a detail of British soldiers from 3 Para as they venture into a minefield to rescue one of their number, who has had his leg blown to rags after stepping onto an IED.

Tom Williams’s script catches the “stop staring at me arse, ya throbber” casual and relentless homophobia of the men, the utter boredom when nothing’s going on, the kicking-in of training and protocol once it’s action stations. Director Paul Katis screws the tension to breaking point and keeps it there, using the pitiless glare of the sun to make the point that even without bombs underfoot, these men are in a place that will kill them in short order anyway.

I could go on, about how the homophobic banter makes sense when the men’s backs are to the wall, how heroism doesn’t look any less heroic when it’s also stupid, how the brave aren’t necessarily the best looking, and how they don’t necessarily get rewarded for it, but that would be to ruin a great film that at only one moment – and I put it down to an acting wobble (the unknown-to-me cast are generally excellent) – seemed film-y. Best plonk yourself down and engage with it.

Kajaki – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Jauja (Soda, cert 15)

Coming out of Jauja (pronounced How-ha, in the Spanish way) – an in many ways simple film about a Danish-speaking father looking, The Searchers style, for the daughter who’s absconded with a handsome young soldier – was a real “what the hell was that about?” moment.

It’s set in 1890s South America, so director Lisandro Alonso’s decision to shoot it in 4:3 format, and with rounded frame edges clearly visible, might be justifiable as a harking back to the silent movies of the time. As might his single lens choice – nothing anamorphic or what have you going on here – a bog-standard piece of glass, with Lisandro staying almost entirely in long and medium shot the whole time. Nor is he moving the camera very much. But he is shooting in colour, so the whole “silent movie” thesis teeters at this point. There’s little dialogue, lots of natural sound, as surveyor Viggo Mortensen, clad in heavy coat and boots in the heat, heads away from the leering, sexually frustrated group of soldiers who have protected him and his lust-object, barely-pubescent daughter, and into the Argentinian version of the Outback, where he undergoes a series of ordeals, often lit in a melodramatic way giving the finger to naturalism, while the terrain gets more desolate and the surreal begins to encroach. Jodorwsky, I put in my notes, with a couple of question marks afterwards.

By the end, as the character Ingeborg is suddenly being addressed by the actress’s name, Villbjørk, you might well be looking around the room with a puzzled look too.

Jauja – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Girls Against Boys (Arrow, cert 15)

Austin Chick keeps threatening to make a great film. In 2002 there was the threeway relationship drama XX/XY, starring Mark Ruffalo as a bedhopping jerk. In 2008, his August was a state-of-the-nation address through the avatar of sexytime jock Josh Hartnett.

Is Girls Against Boys a case of revenge on Chick’s hitherto male-as-protagonist oeuvre? Because it’s a rape-revenge drama that sees poor wee thing Danielle Panabaker taken under the wing of sashaying vixen Nicole LaLiberte as she heads off on some extreme payback for Panabaker’s violation on the stairs of an apartment block.

Chick isn’t sure if this is grindhouse or not. He gets the power tools out at one point and it’s only a matter of time before a samurai sword makes an appearance. But there are also touches of visual poetry – don’t laugh – in Chick’s shooting style. And the way he keeps layering feminism with post-feminism, with lesbianism, and then throws in some Donovan tracks from the 1960s, is almost enough to convince that this isn’t some exploitationer with a college degree.

But exploitationer it is, Chick’s obsessive focusing on Panabaker’s face (beautiful lips, interesting angles) gives the game away. However ideologically muddy Chick tries to make the water, however vengeful the grrrls, the male gaze is all over this one. Nice try though.

Girls Against Boys – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Loft (Signature, cert 15)

There are quite a few “in their wildest dreams” films out this week (see below). First up is a remake by Erik Van Looy of his 2008 Belgian film about a gang of married men whose clandestine shagpad is compromised by the presence of a dead female. Whodunit? One of the guys? One of their wives? The girl herself?

In the fantasies of all concerned at the production/direction end, this is one of those hard-boiled early Neil LaBute dramas – Your Friends and Neighbours, say – crossed with The Usual Suspects. A lot of misogyny and a fair bit of investigative flashback and forward in an attempt to muddy the water more than is strictly necessary. And hide the fact that this is a dialogue driven and very stagey work.

Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and Matthias Schoenaerts (the only survivor from the original) are the guys, and they’re all just fine. As is the script and set-up – with everyone concerned (mostly original writer Bart De Pauw) making it a cute exercise in the mass distribution of red herrings and in the outing of skeletons from closets. But the whole thing goes on too long, and as each revelation turns out to be something of a feint, the law of escalating melodrama/diminishing returns starts to apply.

The Loft – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Gambler (Paramount, cert 15)

The wildest dream of The Gambler is that it’s a patch on the 1974 original, starring James Caan. Now it’s Mark Wahlberg playing the cynical, possibly suicidal, floridly deadbeat English professor, who whiles away his evenings away from work getting further and further into debt with local bad men. But he can win it all back at the tables, right? Of course he can’t. Or can he?

This sort of cat and mouse goes on for an entire film. William Monahan’s adaptation of the 1974 film shows the same love of verbosity that he brought to Scorsese’s The Departed (you suspect that Monahan thinks the finest dialogue scene ever written was the “You can’t handle the truth” outburst by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, because he seems constantly to be tonally aiming there).

Wahlberg is good in this, which is a shame, really, but even more of a shame is that the film throws away Brie Larson, as one of Wahlberg’s students – we’re told she’s a genius writer, but there is no evidence of any character at all. The girl as catalyst but not agent – how very 1970s (here, Mr Monahan, is where your interference might have helped).

Around these two are a rake of character actors giving it maximum R&B – Jessica Lange, Michael Kenneth Williams, Richard Schiff (squeezing a few welcome laughs out of his single scene), John Goodman. All are flavoursome and in a less flabby film (one without an added subplot about Wahlberg seconding gifted sports scholar Anthony Kelley to help him with a betting scam) might have added enough grit to gain real traction.

The Gambler – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Trash (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

In Stephen Daldry and Richard Curtis’s drama about rubbish-picking Brazilian favela kids who find a wallet containing enough good stuff to change their futures, the intention is clearly Slumdog meets City of God. But there isn’t a single moment of emotional involvement (Curtis clearly should stick to the rom coms), no “stakes”, as we now say, and Daldry’s decision to shoot the dirt-poor milieu heavily filtrated and beautifully lit entirely undermines his young actors, whose fabulous, loose-limbed, snot-grinned performances are the sole reason to watch.

Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara, clearly on “two days, max” contracts, play a priest and a church volunteer whose purpose in the country makes more sense than their presence in the film. Plot: heretofore-mentioned wallet gets the boys to charge all around the city, and they go to places high and low, pursued by bad men and the law – I can’t remember why – thus offering the armchair viewer a cross-section of a city they’re never likely to visit.

Before watching it, I’d heard a review of this film on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and thought the guest reviewer (Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, I think) was being a bit harsh – the Daldry/Curtis backlash, and all that. Having watched it, I think she was being kind, Daldry’s weakness as an action director only compounding his initial aesthetic gaffe.

But it goes on. There’s a scene where Gardo, the darkest skinned of the boys steals a bag at a train station – up comes the rap music, FFS. “It’s all crap carp carap” my notes state, my fingers doing to the words what Daldry and Curtis have done to the meticulous work of the valiant young actors’ and brilliant technical crew. Trash by name…

Trash – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Mortdecai (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Saving the worst till last, the latest stop on Johnny Depp’s descent through Dante’s rings of hell reminds us that he thinks he has a gift for comedy.

Here, taking his cue from the British TV series The Fast Show (on which he once made an almost successful guest appearance), he plays the sort of character who works best at catch-phrase length, a dandified British toff who might be original and funny if we hadn’t had three films from Mike Myers featuring Austin Powers, not to mention 50 years of James Bond spoof.

So, Mortdecai is a secret agent of sorts, has a wife (Gwyneth Paltrow again excruciating as a frigid sex goddess), and an aide-de-campe (Paul Bettany – actually rather good, because he’s putting on a performance, not just messing about in the dressing-up box, Johnny).

Permutate these three through various Bond-ian situations and you about have it. I laughed twice, truth be told, and one time it was Depp who prised the chortle from me, so perhaps I’m being harsh.

Mortdecai’s real problem is its lack of energy – fatal to match British upper class languour in this respect – and the fact that it doesn’t have a very funny script. Why didn’t the producer (one J. Depp) get The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse to do it? As it is Whitehouse just got a couple of cameos. Which was nice.

Mortdecai – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

 

 

1 June 2015-06-01

David Oyelowo in Selma

 

Out This Week

 

 

Selma (Pathe, cert 12)

Martin Luther King’s life done as a triumph, not the usual tragedy, the focus being the series of marches King led from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. These effectively rode a coach and horses through the prevailing practice of disenfranchising Negros by making registering to vote all but impossible. Up in Washington DC are two tricky customers – the conniving though not entirely venal President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, not over-reaching himself) and his homunculus, FBI boss J Edgar Hoover (another eel-like turn by Dylan Baker), while down in Alabama operates the strategically astute, tactically sharp King. Like last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, the success of the film comes down to good old fashioned Hollywood screenwriting, Paul Webb’s tight script sketching in background, putting just enough flesh on characters, running us through the events at a pace that never feels rushed. Oddly ignored by the Oscars, David Oleyowo has somehow become meatier, bulkier, looks like a man who likes his grits and gravy. He’s remarkable as King – smart, focused, proud. It’s a black film, Wilkinson and Baker notwithstanding, not a white film pretending to be black (see The Help), and inevitably tends to hagiographise King and his retinue. It’s also a simple film, low in budget (maybe that’s why Oscar wasn’t interested), lacking special effects, almost a TV movie in looks. But it works. What more is necessary?

Selma – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Shaun the Sheep Movie (StudioCanal, cert U)

A movie about the sheep who was first introduced in the Wallace and Gromit film The Wrong Trousers, which I have seen a thousand times, as an result of having a young son at the time it came out. It’s the Babe: Pig in the City plot (defenceless animal goes to town to bring back the farmer) and it’s done without voiceover or any speech at all. So no, there’s no actual explanation as to why animals want to hasten the return of the man whose job is to send them off to the abattoir. Sound effects and music and voiced grunts do most of the work of missing dialogue, the meticulously realised mis-en-scene of the animation doing the rest – this is urban Britain as most of us city-dwellers live it, of car parks and bus stations, traffic gridlock and a multiplicity of ethnicities. And very pointedly multi-ethnic too, directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak nailing their colours to the mast there. The question for me, as I started watching, was “who is this for” – the music choices (Elton John, Primal Scream etc) seemed to be those of a man in his 50s, the cultural allusions (Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver and a lot more) ditto. By the end, having been genuinely delighted by its wit, and reassured that it hadn’t lost that Wrong Trousers whimsicality and inventiveness, the question had become “who is this not for?”.

Shaun the Sheep Movie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

I Am Big Bird (Spectrum, cert E)

Caroll Spinney is the now-81-year-old who has been playing Sesame Street’s Big Bird since the 1960s, and this is his story. It’s a very sweet one, and for some stretches of Spinney’s tale – interested in puppets as a kid, a spell in the forces, early TV work in Bozo the Clown, then spotted by Jim Henson, followed by wobbles in his early days as a Muppeteer, until Big Bird takes off – I was asking myself, so what? And after a few more minutes of Spinney’s story, I stopped carping and started enjoying the way the documentary cross-sectioned recent history from an entirely refreshing angle – whether it was a reminder of Sesame Street’s transracial casting, Big Bird being in China with Bob Hope, to the offer of an orbit of the Earth on the Space Shuttle (the one that exploded, Big Bird being replaced by doomed teacher Christa McAuliffe at the last minute). On top of that it’s a story of a genuinely nice man, his home life with his kids, the bungee jumps and the waterskiing and the puppet shows. Spinney talks a lot about his life, his love for his wife and his hippie-ish philosophy, and his colleagues say so often that he is in fact also Big Bird in real life that you start to believe them (Spinney is also Oscar the Grouch, about whom less is said). He has no plans to retire, even though, you sense, some of those around him wish he would. His understudy, Matt Vogel, retains a poker face throughout.

I Am Big Bird – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Inherent Vice (Warner, cert 15)

Having been compared to Robert Altman on numerous occasions, Paul Thomas Anderson finally jumps in with both feet in something approaching a homage to Altman’s 1973 Philip Marlowe thriller, The Long Goodbye. Here, Joaquin Phoenix is the stoner PI in search of weed and answers and running into the hangover from 1960s hippiedom – astrology and spiritual coaches, ouija boards, Neil Young songs, zipless fucks and walking around in bare feet. If you’re in the mood for a takedown of that sort of thing, it’s a good one. If you’re like me you might think Anderson is decades late, as was Thomas Pynchon in his original novel. Pynchon’s Dickensian names – Agent Flatweed, Puck Beaverton, Petunia Leeway, Sauncho Smilax Esq – remain, as do the similarly large characters (Josh Brolin as a cop with a fondness for popsicles resembling black cock, Martin Short as the cocaine doctor, Benicio Del Toro as a fairly useless lawyer). Phoenix is again very good as the button smart dude trying to function against an overhead of cannabis, and ace cinematographer Robert Elswit loads up the visuals with that bright, bright light that characterised films of the era (Chinatown is another strong reference). The individual elements of this stoned soul picnic are unimpeachable. Dickens would have stitched them together with a stronger throughline.

Inherent Vice – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Lost River (E One, cert 15)

So, Ryan Gosling directs a movie and the world stands back, sort of hoping he’s going to disgrace himself. He doesn’t. But by the end, the question asked at the beginning – is this a stylish, left-field film by someone trying something different, or an exercise in pastiche by someone taking a short cut to auteur glory? – has been answered. “A film by Ryan Gosling” it says at the outset, rather than the wankier “A Ryan Gosling film”, because in all honesty this is Benoit Debie’s film, the cinematographer who gave Gaspar Noë’s Enter the Void its remarkable, trippy kaleidoscopic looks and who, I’m guessing, also persuaded Harmony Korine that the girls in Spring Breakers would look extra special in hot neon bikinis. Debie does love his neon and his trademark colours are all over this very Lynchian tale of a mother (Christina Hendricks) and her son (Iain De Caestecker) in crumbling Detroit – he’s running wild and daily runs the risk of being taken down by the gang which has declared that it and it alone has scavenging rights in the dilapidated city. She, meanwhile, fearful of losing her house, is taking a job in a bizarro cabaret, on the recommendation of her bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) – who seems also to own the club. It’s this club that’s the site of most of the Lynchian goings-on, where sexual and aggressive underbellies are exposed and a popular song is sung in ironic fashion by someone you wouldn’t expect to sing a song. Eva Mendes also dons a basque for a bit of gory burlesque (“Look who I’m married to!” Gosling appears to be boasting. Don’t hate him). Blue Velvet’s power came from the fact that Lynch was making ironic comment on the standard ironic critique of America – pointing out that America’s moment had passed, though no one had yet noticed. What is Gosling doing? A “what he said”, I think. Visually, it’s an impressive exercise in sepulchral, crepuscular style, with lots to enjoy in the performances – Mendes and Mendelsohn, an unrecognisable and excellent Matt Smith as the local gang boss. Gosling has got all his artschool gothic out in one big go, and made a pretty picture while doing so. It’s his next film that will be the real test.

Lost River – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Far from the Madding Crowd (StudioCanal, cert U)

The bad things in John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel are only minor – Julie Christie is, at 26, too old and too knowing to play Bathsheba, the rural temptress whose beauty and wilfulness are a weapon that she can’t quite control, viz the three stunned/maimed men who trail in her wake. Alan Bates has a wandering accent and isn’t quite yokelish enough, as Gabriel Oak the shepherd. Terence Stamp’s Sergeant Troy seems to have his roots in the East End rather than the West Country, and lacks the crisp deportment you expect of a military man. Peter Finch is, however, practically perfect as the local squire hoping class and cash will work on Bathsheba where devotion (Gabriel) and sheer animal magnetism (Troy) have not quite. Which brings us to the great things – Schlesinger’s direction and Nicolas Roeg’s cinematography constantly situating the characters in nature, reminding us they are all subjects of a power beyond comprehension. Richard Rodney Bennett’s score, which also stirs dissonances into the bucolic rapture, a foreshadowing of The Wicker Man maybe. Frederic Raphael’s script, a marvel of concision, its episodic structure also suggesting something like the Stations of the Cross – except here all characters are tested and chastened. Derided for its trendy casting when it first came out (Stamp and Christie were thought to be the “Terry and Julie” of the Kinks single Waterloo Sunset), it is the film’s archaicisms that let it down the most – the post-dubbed dialogue knocking the life out of many scenes, especially earlier in the film; and the appalling use of soft on Christie’s face. The restored version I watched was beautiful to behold, but Christie is so besmeared with Vaseline effects that I wondered if it was an artefact introduced by the software.

Far from the Madding Crowd – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Interview (Sony, cert 15)

TV guys Seth Rogen and James Franco go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un in the comedy notorious for getting caught up in the whole Sony hacking debacle around Christmas. It’s a terrible film, the unfunniest comedy about dictatorship since Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. But let’s not forget that Baron Cohen’s character was fictional, Kim Jong-un actually exists, and as well as being a butt of jokes for the free world’s media is also responsible for the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow countrymen. A fuller review of the film is here.

The Interview – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 July 2015-07-27

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

 

Out in the UK This Week

 

Clouds of Sils Maria (Artificial Eye, cert 15)

Olivier Assayas follows Something in the Air, his largely autobiographical personal meditation on the aftermath of the events of May 1968, with a different type of dramatic reflexivity. Clouds of Sils Maria is a meditation on acting, performed by a trio of actors at the top of their game. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz are the three, all channeling vague versions of themselves. Stewart plays the personal assistant to Binoche, an actress now about to play the older role in a remake of the punishing two-hander that made her name years before. But who to play the younger role? Together, after a bit of international jet-setting and entourage-ing about, master and servant hit upon Jo-Ann (Moretz), a bad-girl actress currently riding genre movies to the top, and whose CV sounds not unlike the real-life Stewart’s. Though in the film for the least amount of time, Moretz is the most believable of this talented threesome. Perhaps because, over Assayas’s crypto-commentary on acting, young actors, living life in the public eye and so on, he lays a kind of meta-distancing effect by having Binoche and Stewart give slightly stilted line readings, unless their characters are meant to be acting, as when PA Stewart helps Binoche rehearse, in which case they’re remarkably believable. It’s a strange, very meta, very French thing to have them do. Stewart won a César (the French Oscars) for her role, the first non-French woman to do so. And since the film is, really, about her, and she is never less than magnetic (which she can’t help) and committed (which she can), it is kind of appropriate. Watch the scenes where her boss is about to meet Moretz for the first time, and Stewart gives her a crib sheet briefing on the actor. It is essentially her own story (fucking up in public, breaking up with a big name actor etc). Then try and work out whether discomfort on Stewart’s face is acting or not.

Clouds of Sils Maria – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (StudioCanal, cert 18)

To be bracketed with Let the Right One In, Byzantium and Only Lovers Left Alive as an essential recent vampire film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in California but is in effect an Iranian movie – everyone wears traditional garb, everyone speaks Persian. It tells two stories – of a lonely female vampire, and of a troubled son of a junkie dad, whose car is repossessed by a local dealer sick of carrying the father’s debt. The Vampire as Victim is the idea (like Let the Right One In), with a hint of the “more in regret than in anger” bloodletting of Only Lovers Left Alive in the way that our mournful Undead (Sheila Vand) reluctantly, and only when all else has failed, decides to suck blood in a manner that recalls that awful “jumping sack” moment from Audition. Its black and white, almost Sebastião Salgado looks and slight naiveté recall early Jarmusch, and it has Jarmusch’s drollery too – wait for one of the most spectacular meet-cutes between the two key players and I guarantee you’ll smile if not laugh out loud (no spoilers). And notice something that director Ana Lily Amirpour clearly also has – that the traditional black jilbab and a flowing vampire cape aren’t exactly that dissimilar. If vampire films are always a metaphor for something, here it appears to be the dulling of consciousness – you’ve only got one life; please live it! And if vampire films generally tend, like vampires themselves, to overstay their welcome, this does rather overdo the lingering arthouse pans through the night-time demi-monde here and there, though to be honest the cinematography is so spectacular (how can you shoot against naked white light like that?) that you might well let that go.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

While We’re Young (Icon, cert 15)

Childless metrosexual couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts meet Adam Horovitz and Amanda Seyfried – hipper, younger versions of themselves – and they start to hang out. Stiller is a documentary maker struggling for the next hit, Horovitz is in the same game but is on the rise. Both men genuflect before Charles Grodin, Watts’s father and revered old man of the form. Once he’s got these biographical details in place, writer/director Noah Baumbach unleashes a satire that has a Billy Wilder ferocity in a film structured like Steve Martin’s LA Story. The superb first half takes potshots at modern life (the midlifers and their iPhones and Wikipedia; the hipsters and their vinyl and typewriters, and so on) and the oldies’ unwillingness to admit youth has flown. Then there’s the more straightforward conservative second half, when life lessons are learned, plot ends are tied up and a homily delivered. Horovitz emerges as the star of the piece, as the younger man, whose wide eyes hide the fact that he is actually a player on the make. What’s the message? Grow up, it seems, the real barbs being aimed at the ones being greedy – ie Stiller and Watts. Seen another way, it’s all about that Jewish New York attitude that drives new generations to take the familiar and rework its meaning – so now Rocky 3, Baumbach’s little joke, is an interesting cultural text. All summed up in a final montage where Baumbach contrasts the viewpoints of three different generations of film-maker – same material, different cultural meaning – to dazzling effect.

While We’re Young – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

That Sugar Film (Soda, cert 12)

What’s odd about That Sugar Film is how closely it cleaves to the Super Size Me format – one man goes on a special diet for x days and reports back the results – and yet how it almost fucks it up. Australian documentarian Damon Gameau gives us a preamble about his how his hot girlfriend first encouraged him into the ways of healthy eating and now, pregnant with their first child, how she’s trepidatious about his big idea – to consume the same amount of sugar that the average Australian does, but without resorting to the obviously sugary things. So, no cola, instead fruit juices; no cakes, instead lots of low-fat “healthy” foods which, Gameau tells us, use sugar to replace the missing calories, mouthfeel and hit of the fat that isn’t there. So, off he goes, down Morgan Spurlock Avenue, having first had his body calibrated by a team of people in white coats. Gameau bulks out his experiment with detours – to the aboriginal community who ran a healthy eating program with spectacular results, until it was shut down by the government; to the 17 year old kid whose addiction to Mountain Dew (37 teaspoons of sugar in a 1.5 litre bottle) has reduced his teeth to stumps; with a bit about the work done by nutrition scientist Ansel Keys, who demonised fat and exonerated sugar; to some investigative rummaging into the funding of much nutritional research by Big Sugar. And so on. In spite of the fact that Gameau quite blatantly drops his “healthy diet” experiment at one point, to pig out on white sugar – making a point about the 40 teaspoons a day the average Australian unwittingly consumes – the scientific results after 60 days are stark. Even though he’s consumed the same number of calories, and eaten only OK stuff (his mad Al Pacino-style dive into sugar to one side) his liver levels are off the scale, his body fat is way up, his cholesterol is through the roof and his waistline is up 10cm. In truth, That Sugar Film looks like propaganda for the high fat diet – Gameau’s vague description of what his normal diet consists of would seem to place him in the paleo camp (meat, fat, vegetables, little starch or sugar). And in some ways I wish that that’s the film he’d made – except a man who’s doing a Super Size Me cannot make a film about switching to a diet he’s already on. Another thing: in exactly the same way that Morgan Spurlock never said to his partner when she aired her concerns about his consumption of a billion Big Macs, “But honey, I’m doing this for our future – to make our fortune,” the same unspoken subtext hangs heavy throughout the film. Interesting findings though, and I also learned about the concept of TOFI (Thin Outside, Fat Inside) and that Gameau has no idea how bad a rapper he is.

That Sugar Film – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Listen Up Philip (Eureka, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

A portrait of extreme artistic narcissism, starring Jason Schwartzman as Philip, a young version of the Great American Novelist, and Jonathan Pryce as the mentor he leans on, an older version of the same. Philip Roth is the template, apparently, and there’s a novelistic voiceover spoken with well modulated, wry “I see what you don’t” gravitas by Eric Bogosian, a jazzy kind of soundtrack, a resort to Maysles brothers’ handheld sun-in-the-lens style of beat-cinematography – like the Great American novel, it’s all very 1950s/1960s. And like Schwartzman’s Philip, it’s hard to like. It’s also hard to work out whether Listen Up Philip’s slightly arch, self-important tone is another satirical stab at the Great American Novel or whether writer/director Alex Ross Perry is simply disappearing up his own assessment of himself. At bottom, once Schwartzman and girlfriend Elisabeth Moss have split up – which is all the paper-thin plot consists of – and Jonathan Pryce has revealed himself to have feet of clay, it slides into what many attempts at the Great American Novel slide into – a campus novel of failed hopes and self-sabotage, Pryce being particularly good here. Is it worth watching? I wouldn’t want to watch it again, but it’s a rare film that comes right out and says that artists are assholes, that their obsessions are often self-obsession lightly disguised, or that the public’s obsession with them ignores the demand end of the equation – there are lots of people engaged in artistic work; society chooses who “fits” and discards the rest. The attribute of brilliance is accorded to the successful, not necessarily the gifted. Artistic production as delusional private enterprise – discuss.

Listen Up Philip – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Mediumrare, cert 18)

A cult item from 1991, now restored the better to be able to see the wounds. It’s a distant cousin of Kung Fu Hustle, a hybrid of pantomime, kung fu and the splatter movie, and follows the Bruce Lee-like Riki (Fan Siu-Wong) into prison, where he has to fight the malevolent drug-baron Mr Big to retain his self-respect, and, being pretty, his ass. No, no, it’s really not that sort of film. Instead it’s the sort where one of Mr Big’s thugs runs at Ricky, and Ricky, having taken off his shirt to reveal his splendid abs, slashes him with a knife, forcing the assailant to pull out his own intestines from the gaping wound and attempt to strangle Ricky with them. Don’t expect psychological depth – there’s isn’t a move or action, reaction or set-up that doesn’t spring from nowhere – this is a Golden Harvest production and they generally paddle in those waters. Nor is there any sort of throughline. One minute it’s machine guns our hero is fighting against, the next he’s in a dungeon being filled with liquid concrete. You’ve got to admire the energy, and its audacious physical effects, and its ridiculousness. That’s not bad for starters.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

Get Hard (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Plot: rich white guy Will Ferrell is about to go to jail for some major financial irregularity. How can he avoid being bumfucked to death? He employs the services of a carwash guy who works in the garage beneath his office. This guy, being black (it’s Kevin Hart), will know what to do to prevent anal penetration, and other degradations. And off we go with Get Hard – one half jokes about race, one half jokes about gay sex. And when those two wells run dry, there’s also the fact that Ferrell is very tall and Hart is quite small. Like Ferrell’s character, this is a tremendously flabby film, but there are genuinely funny jokes in among the folds, not that you’ll be congratulating yourself on your sophistication for laughing at Ferrell’s demonstration of the storing of shivs up the rectum, or his attempts at trash-talk (“I’m gonna punch you in the fuck”), or Hart cajoling him into learning how to suck cock – “When life puts a dick in your mouth, you make dickade,” Hart says to him. “Dickade doesn’t sound like a significant improvement over dick,” Ferrell replies. I laughed. I’d have laughed a lot more if it had been about 20 minutes shorter.

Get Hard – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015