Out in the UK This Week
The Invisible Woman (Lionsgate, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a film ostensibly about the secret mistress of Charles Dickens. In fact it’s about Dickens himself. The Invisible Biopic, perhaps. Either way, Felicity Jones is Ellen Ternan, the actress who became Dickens’s lover while Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens, as perhaps one of the first true celebs of the media age, mobbed wherever he went, thanks to his appearance in daily newspapers, read avidly by the newly literate working classes. Both actors are as good as you’d hope (Jones, brilliant, Fiennes actually better than I expected), there’s a wealth of period detail, reminding us, for instance, that even washing yourself was a pain in Victorian era. And though the attempts to compare Dickens and Ternan to Great Expectations‘ Pip and Estella are entirely redundant, this is otherwise an immensely subtle, intelligent and interesting film with good performances (Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander) all the way down the line.
The Pretty One (Sony, cert 15, DVD)
I’d never heard of Zoe Kazan before. She’s very good playing twin sisters – one a wallflower who lives with dad, the other the “pretty one” who’s a real estate agent making a go of her life. One of the twins dies, forcing the other one into impersonation mode, for reasons which can only be spoilerish if revealed here. What follows is a quite astute social commentary comparing the status-obsessed go-getting twin with the more home-loving natural one. It’s also a nice romance, with Jake Johnson again doing passable Joaquin Phoenix-lite duty, as the slackerish decent guy who falls for one twin while thinking he’s falling for the other. And it’s a comedy, with the jokes coming fairly fast, in spite of the fact that the film periodically stops to return to the cemetery. That’s really not a bad tally – drama, romance, comedy, all done well, freshly, with insight and genuine laughs. And you feel for the characters too. A hidden gem.
The Monuments Men (Fox, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
George Clooney’s dramedy got a panning when it first debuted. Change your expectations and set the bar at the Kelly Heroes, Von Ryan’s Express level of Second World War knockabout and it’s an entirely enjoyable entertainment about a ragtag bunch of misfits hunting art looted by the Nazis. The tone is deliberately anti-Tarantino-esque and determinedly old school, the actors include Bill Murray, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville, and it moves at a genteel pace, allowing lots of interaction between the relaxed cast as the action shifts from France to Ghent to Brugges following the Nazis’ retreat back towards Berlin as the Thousand Year Reich comes to an end in just over a dozen (whoops). Just listen to its soundtrack, rat-a-tat snare drum, whistled theme tune in march time, and it tells you everything you need to know. Apply a cosy fire, a Sunday afternoon, a comfy chair, and sleep through.
The Motel Life (House, cert 15, DVD)
Creeping onto DVD without much fanfare is this incredibly muted film about a pair of brothers drifting perilously towards the danger zone of existence. Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff are the bro’s, the former the able-bodied responsible one putting his life on hold to take care of his leg-amputated brother, Dorff desperately believable as a man who knows he’s totally busted, maybe not today, but definitely sometime. Be warned: there isn’t much plot, but there is a ton of atmosphere – the film is as much about Americana as about the brothers and comes with all the accoutrements of a Willie Nelson or Bruce Springsteen song: a Dodge Dart, motel rooms, diners, booze, the blue collar life. Kris Kristofferson does one of his cameo mentor roles, Dakota Fanning injects a bit of femininity, but really it’s just the two guys and a will-they-won’t-they-make-it vibe. It’s good.
Endless Love (Universal, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
This second stab at turning Scott Spencer’s novel into a film improves on the 1981 disaster starring Brooke Shields and is still about an uptown girl and a downtown guy meeting and falling in ecstatic, endless love. Now, Gabriella Wilde is the girl and Alex Pettyfer is the guy. The characters are meant to be teenagers but the actors are in fact both close to 25. And this matters because Pettyfer has spent so much time at the gym in the past few years trying to beef himself up precisely to get away from teen heartthrob roles such as this that he’s not even faintly credible as a decent young kid with a big bootful of charisma. The plot is “daddy does not approve” with Bruce Greenwood doing way more than is strictly necessary as the scowling father of the prospective-doctor daughter. So much so that the sympathies are more with him than this lovelorn duo. What is it about Spencer’s novel that makes film-makers stumble? Or maybe I’m just a bit old for it. Speaking of age, the sight of the beautiful Wilde – who is, it must be said, 100 per cent what she’s meant to be – constantly photographed in gauzy outfits, in a bikini, in a skimpy T shirt, that doesn’t hurt the film at all. And it does need all the help it can get.
Raze (Koch, cert 18, DVD)
Take any womens-prison drama, then inject a plot about the inmates being forced to fight to the death. Then add former stuntwoman Zoe Bell as an inmate and you’ve about got this brutal actioner. Grisly it might be, but it’s also drama free. In fact the most impressive thing about the film is the sports bras that the combatants wear – this isn’t your titillating fest of jiggly bits, these sturdy support garments sternly inform us. On the other hand Raze isn’t much of a display of fighting either, since the whole thing has been made in the “fight edit” style that prefers post-production assemblage to actual fist and foot work. For god’s sake, directors everywhere, heed Fred Astaire and pull the camera back. The women are, for the most part, interchangeable, though Rebecca Marshall attracts attention by going for a Jack Nicholson overacting prize as Bell’s leering nemesis. If Raze has any broader value, it’s as a corrective to the women-as-victims stereotype. There isn’t a delicate flower in sight. Otherwise, forget it.
© Steve Morrissey 2014