Out in the UK this week
The Master (EV, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s interesting rather than great follow-up to There Will Be Blood follows shell-shocked war veteran Joaquin Phoenix into the ranks of what looks like Scientology in its early days. Like his films Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, The Master deals with fakery and the narratives people live by, Philip Seymour Hoffman giving it lots of Orson Welles orotundity as the cult’s charismatic leader, while PTA lays on the period detail with a cultural anthropologist’s precision, demonstrating how you went about building a new religion from nothing in the mid 20th century – a cooky mix of patrician Bloomsbury socialism, cheap Freud/Jung regression hypnotics and lots of science fiction, it turns out. But in spite of the film being called The Master, it’s not Seymour Hoffman we’re following but Phoenix, as a wiry, wired redneck like some wind-tanned character out of a Depression era dustbowl photograph. It’s a standout performance, too good, too unsympathetic for an actual Oscar (though he was nominated).
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Entertainment One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
“The Volturi, they’re coming for us.” The interminable franchise finally comes to an end and the Volturi probably don’t come half fast enough if you’ve never been convinced by the “it’s not my fault” whingeing of Kristin Stewart, playing the girl who initially values her hymen over her humanity (until she doesn’t), who has cock-teased a glowering werewolf while making the two-backed beast with a pasty-faced 109-year-old vampire. To give it its due, this finale, which starts out as deathly boring as the others, does pick up once Michael Sheen, playing king of the Volturi, arrives to lay on a full two kilos of ham. And right at the end, after the big battle scene, there’s the bonus of a 15-minute montage of all the best bits of all the films, and a reminder of all the characters who’ve featured, some of whom we’ve come to almost recognise. As I say, a slow start, but director Bill Condon does eventually get the ball into the air, and knows how to shape a drama and pull off a happy finish. And as that slightly off-colour remark suggests, I’m too old, too lacking in innocence and the wrong gender for the whole Twilight thing, in spite of which the film actually left me with a smile on my face and the beginnings of a tear in the eye.
Small Town Murder Songs (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
An extremely flavoursome film about a cop (excellent Peter Stormare) investigating a murder in a raggle-taggle town with a large Mennonite community. A film that stands out for several reasons. But mainly because of its focus on backstory. There’s a hell of a lot more of it than whatever its opposite is (front story?), and the puzzle of the film is working out – and this happens from the very opening scene – the history of this impassive cop who looks like he’s struggling with something mighty inside. Then there’s the mighty soundtrack, a whooping, hollering churchy thing. Plus the cast of incidental characters, clearly all related, their big moon faces suggesting they’re perhaps just a little too related, if you know what I mean. Smalltown, oppressive, very nicely done.
Alps (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)
At some point in the oddball, offbeat, attenuated, distant and mysterious Dogtooth, the Greek writer/director Giorgos Lanthimos delivered the final bit of information that allowed us to work out what was going on. In his cool, weird follow-up – following a doctor who seems to be living out her life in a series of surrogate situations (a theme also explored in Holy Motors) – that missing bit of information never actually arrives. Result: utter perplexity.
Room 237 (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
A documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining and the many theories about what it’s “really about” – it’s about the genocide of the American Indian, or the fake moon landings, or the Holocaust, or the myth of the Minotaur. One theory even suggests the carpets in the Overlook Hotel are giving off erotic messages, or something. Room 237 is internet chatroom madness in filmic form in other words. A disclaimer at the beginning of this documentary takes extreme pains to point out that this film represents neither the view of Kubrick, the Kubrick estate, nor the makers of The Shining (Warner Bros, presumably), though given the amount of access that director Rodney Ascher has obviously been given to Kubrick’s films, someone somewhere in official Kubrick world thinks this film is a Good Thing. It is. And you get to see again the feral ranginess of Jack Nicholson in his prime going nuts in the Overlook Hotel, which is also always a good thing too.
Sister (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
Undeniably atmospheric though strangely formless, this French drama is about a young thief (Kacey Mottet Klein) doing very nicely thank you by robbing from the rich people at the ski resort he lives alongside, and his difficult relationship with his similarly skanky sister (Léa Seydoux, all Kate Moss cheekbones and cool). Director Ursula Meier made Home, a film about a family living next to a motorway, and Sister also deals in strained family situations, avoids easy cliches and crafts a simple, almost old-fashioned argument about the power of affection in everyday life. Yes, that’s Gillian Anderson’s name in the credits, but she’s not in it much. X Files fans need feel no compulsion to check this out (not that I’m saying don’t).
Gayby (Peccadillo, cert 15, DVD)
Yes, that’s a horrible title but it does at least explain the film – about a woman with ticking-timebomb ovaries and her gay best friend having a baby, or trying to at least, while a succession of gay stereotypes are explored, exploded and teased. This is the film that that terrible Rupert Everett/Madonna film The Next Best Thing probably thought it was going to be – witheringly funny about gays (hats off to Jonathan Lisecki, who not only directs but is very funny as a screaming bear) but moreso about urban metrosexuals and what limp-wrists they’ve (we’ve) all become with our yoga and our obsessive sanitising.
© Steve Morrissey 2013