Out This Week
Tangerine (Metrodome, cert 15)
A few weeks ago it was Tangerines, a blunt, austere Estonian/Georgian film about the conflict in Abkhazia. Now it’s in the singular, Tangerine, an over the top film about life in another conflict zone – on the crack-whorey streets of modern LA.
The film is all shot on an iPhone 5S and shows that none of us has an excuse not to make a film any more, if that’s the way we’re claiming we’re pointing. Though director Sean Baker is so good at post-production and editing that you probably wouldn’t guess exactly how it was shot.
The plot is simple yet ample – gender-transitioning street worker Sin-Dee hears from her not-quite-a-gal-pal Alexandra that her boyfriend has shacked up with someone else. And so, voice set to screech, bee-yatches echoing, off Sin-Dee and Alexandra head to find flaky fucker Chester. Meanwhile, cruising the streets is taxi driver Razmik, a man with a penchant for dick (one of whose rides is, remarkably and entirely incidentally, Clu Gulager, nearly 90 and still feisty). The action all takes place on Christmas Eve, making this one of the skankiest Christmas Movies ever, and eventually Sin-Dee, Alexandra, Chester and Razmik all wind up in the same donut shop together, where the mother of all flame-outs is scheduled to happen.
This is a frequently hilarious film, brilliantly acted and put together, with Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (as Sin-Dee) working his/her remarkably mobile face to such an extent that it threatens to break free of the screen. There are some magical moments of observational comedy – who’d ever noticed, for example, that the noises you hear in a drive-through carwash resemble a gigantic blowjob? – and there’s an underlying sweetness to it all, in the relationship between Sin-Dee and Alexandra that makes it not so skanky a Christmas Movie after all, maybe. Those unsure about crackpipes, blowjobs and sex for cash should probably keep away.
Tangerine – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
Sunset Song (Metrodome, cert 15)
A Scottish Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by Terence Davies, who brings the exquisite languor of his House of Mirth to bear on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel. It’s the almost Gone with the Wind-ian story of a young woman’s connection to soil and hearth, in this case a remote farm in early 20th-century Scotland, where life is tough.
The model Agyness Deyn is a force of nature as the bright, likeable, durable Chris, who puts hopes of going on to higher education to one side because she’s needed at home. There, strict disciplinarian dad Peter Mullan and exhausted baby-machine mother Daniela Nardini keep her busy until it’s her turn to rule the roost, meet a man and forge her own way, just as, uh oh, the First World War is arriving.
Chris is a woman to whom adventures happen, though Davies keeps us always – with frequent tableaux of corn waving in the sun – aware of the fact that her first love is the farm, Blawearie, whose name is spoken more than any human’s. There’s a Claire Denis aspect to Davies’s weaving of sensual magic through the rhythm of his shots, the flamboyant Catholic (lapsed) having aesthetic fun in what’s meant to be an austere Presbyterian world.
But it’s primarily a plot-driven, rather than mood-driven drama, its long running time (135 mins) necessary to get all the details in. Did I sense a hint of Ermanno Olmi’s Italian epic from 1978, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, in the fascination with rural life, local dialect, songs of the era, and the pulse of the agrarian cycle? I think so.
Sunset Song – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
The Forbidden Room (Soda, cert 12)
If you’re familiar with the work of Guy Maddin – who often has half an eye on the trustees of art endowments and takes a not-unLynchian gimcrack, oddball approach to film-making, shooting often in black and white, strongly aping much older styles – most of it is here in this collaboration with “co-director” Evan Johnson.
Maddin and Johnson essentially switch between about 20 different stories – or fragments of stories – all simulacra of Hollywood melodramas of decades long gone, and each shot in its own distinctive style, including the credits. So, a crew in a submarine with dangerous gelignite on board. A robber gang in a forest. A jungle movie. Skeleton women. A manhunt. Lunatics behind bars. A doctor experimenting on a brain. And so on.
Don’t expect a triumph of narrative coherence but together these film fragments are a stylistic marvel. Most of the female characters resemble Hedy Lamarr, the colour footage somehow looking exactly as you imagine ancient celluloid would look if it suddenly sprouted an extra dimension. And there’s the occasional recognisable name such as Udo Kier, Mathieu Amalric and Geraldine Chaplin, all graduates of the University of Oddsville.
Disjointed as all the various strands are, Maddin and Johnson eventually contrive to start folding them into each other, perhaps suggesting that all stories are the same story (hello, endowment trustees), to pull off a remarkable climax in which all the various bits come to a simultaneous finish.
It might not grip entirely in the middle section, but stick with it, the final effect is a magician’s flourish of flickerbook brilliance.
The Forbidden Room – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
Grandma (Sony, cert 15)
Now approaching 80, Lily Tomlin gets a crack in about her age early. In the opening scene of Grandma, as she is breaking up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), she claims she is “rapidly approaching 50”, then half raises a botoxed eyebrow to camera as it to say, “What?!”. It sets the querulous tone for a film that asks imperious questions about the fate of 1960s radicalism as Tomlin heads on a mini road trip trying to secure an abortion for her suddenly pregnant grand-daughter (Julia Garner). But the Well Woman Clinic has become a sucky coffee shop where the strict rules of “Generation Appropriate” soon get them ejected. The second hand bookshop isn’t interested in grandma’s feminist classics. And an old much-married friend (Sam Elliott) they’re trying to tap for cash has a sudden attack of moral high dudgeon when he realises what they want it for.
And so on – the world has changed. For all Tomlin’s age and obvious cosmetic work, she’s in great shape, an advert for Pilates or Yoga or whatever it is she does. But in spite of the fact that it’s a joy to see her back on the big screen and at full “fuck you!”, her acting’s a touch gamey here and there, as happens with stand-up comedians used to projecting. Luckily we can focus on the fabulous Garner, as the naive hurt petal through whose eyes we see the older, boomer generation behaving.
Funny to think that, a long time ago, Paul Weitz directed American Pie. His films since have become gradually more serious, but they’ve always tended to be about unusual relationships – About a Boy, Little Fockers, Being Flynn – no masterpieces there, and all written in the emotionally confessional style, forgivable in a knockabout movie that needs to be hurried along, less useful in something aiming for thoughtful, where people aren’t supposed to be saying just exactly what they’re thinking. Enter Marcia Gay Harden, as the over-committed mother of Garner, another semaphore role which Harden actually manages to do something with. But then that’s because she is so good.
A mixed bag of a movie, is what I’m saying. Weitz’s fascination for what happened to his generation’s hard won achievements tempered by his tendency to glibness. Lovely acting all around. Note, in particular, how good the support players are.
Grandma – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
War on the Range (Kaleidoscope, cert 15)
I’ve never heard of the director Kane Senes before, but he’s taking an unusual approach to the old-fashioned western, essentially dredging it in the sunny, 1970s lens-flare visuals and languid pacing of David Gordon Green (and cinematographer Tim Orr).
James Badge Dale stars in what looks like a Shane payback role, as a black sheep returning from the Civil War, shell-shocked, to the family fold, finding they’re being menaced by another local family, headed by William Forsyth – a dude so badass he fucks his wife even though she’s lost her mind and has no idea what he’s doing (it’s Beth Broderick, fans of Sabrina the Teenage Witch might be delighted to know). Things are complicated by some Romeo and Juliet love across the divide between Maika Monroe (of It Follows) and Rhys Wakefield.
In spite of its tendency towards B movie inconsequentiality, and its obvious TV-spend budget, there’s a coolness and assuredness to the film which, like its soundtrack, hovers and drifts before pouncing – though we’re introduced to the sight of animals being gutted early on, so we’re already warned that a bloody finale is on the cards.
War on the Range aka Echoes of War – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
Ratter (Sony, cert 15)
Ashley Benson was one of the four hot girls in Spring Breakers, and is hot again in Ratter, as a student who is being stalked by someone who’s gained control of all her tech gear – phone, tablet, laptop, what have you. Based on the 2012 viral short Webcam, Ratter loses something unzipped to feature length, and its debt to Paranormal Activity is clear – though here DP Stefan Haverkamp is called upon to differentiate between one supposed device – a phone in a half open bag, a laptop camera suddenly hijacked by our invisible stalker and so on – which he does with skill, richly deserving his extended mention in the final credits.
Director/writer Branden Kramer puts a clever little spin on the notions of the scopophilic camera and the male gaze, quite deliberately not giving us shots of Benson at her most private, and instead including scenes in which we observe her interacting with people at the most mundane public level. Guys. And they all hit on her, even the nerdy tech guy she takes her “possessed” laptop to for fixing.
So who, exactly, Kramer asks, is doing the stalking here? A good cautionary tale whose sudden finish (no spoilers) can’t quite hide the fact that any of the scenes we’re watching could be shuffled with any other – not much in the way of escalating threat is what I’m saying.
Ratter – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
Jeruzalem (Matchbox, cert 15)
And in a week oddly thick with POV gimmicks, a film with the energy of [REC] whose found-footage conceit is that it’s all shot on Google Glass (though no actual brand was mentioned).
It follows Sarah and Rachel, a couple of young American Jewish woman on their hedonistic holiday in tourist Jerusalem, where, a grainy preamble has already warned us, one of the gates of hell is situated. We’re all set for a horror film with a Jewish flavour – the Golem, perhaps – when what plays out is more akin to a zombie invasion movie seen through one woman’s eyes, with heads-up dispaly visuals for added (ie diminished) impact.
There’s a special problem of identification in Jeruzalem, since our heroine Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) is invisible for the most part, while her comely friend Rachel (Yael Grobglas) hogs the screen, gets the guy and does the different grades of shrieking, fun to fright. Director/writers Doron and Yoav Paz understand this and work up all sorts of reasons for Sarah to take off the glasses for a moment and insinuate herself into the frame.
On the other hand, it does look like this might be guerrilla film-making in action, Sarah and Rachel apparently wandering into bazaars, through picturesque narrow lanes in the old city with every suggestion that no one involved has asked the Jerusalem city authorities for permission to shoot. Talking of shooting: the zombies – they’re the Palestinians, aren’t they? Just like in World War Z. Or is that just me?
Jeruzalem – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2016