14 July 2014-07-14

Out in the UK This Week

Under the Skin (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Brian Glazer’s most attention-grabbing film since Sexy Beast is another experiment in genre – this time he’s playing with the idea that audiences know so much about alien invasions that he can tell a story with barely any spoken dialogue, characterisation or much in the way of sets or SFX and we’ll all still get it. So those who think Scarlett Johansson can’t act – she can – will be relieved with her portrayal of the nearly silent but deadly sexy alien who’s driving around Glasgow in a van and inveigling lonely single guys back to her lair, where she takes her clothes off before luring the priapically led victims into a big inky-black pit of death. In many ways Scar-Jo is your standard-issue alien – wide-eyed, impassive – and in many ways this is your standard issue alien story. But Glazer’s treatment – most of it is filmed inside a white builder’s van – is audacious, and his theme, that sexual relations between men and women have more than just a touch of the predatory about them, are a comment on the current moral panic about “sexual abuse”.

Under the Skin – at Amazon

The Lunchbox (Artificial Eye, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Abandon cynicism and yield to a truly lovely romance, of sorts, set in Mumbai, where dabbawallahs deliver lunchboxes to thousands of desk jockeys every day. The Lunchbox being the story of what happens when sad, lonely Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a penpusher on the verge of retirement accidentally receives the wrong lunchbox, one destined for the never appreciative go-getting husband of lonely, beautiful housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur). Her food is delicious and Saajan strikes up a relationship with her via notes he writes and leaves in the box, which is returned to her by dabbawallah express. Will they/won’t they is the basic question the film asks. And it keeps us on a highwire of expectation while singing an elegy for a disappearing India and treating us to some exquisite acting by both Khan and Kaur, with Nawazuddin Siddiqui providing a bit of pantomime comic support as the new guy about to take Saajan’s job. Very tasty.

The Lunchbox – at Amazon

The Square (Kaleidoscope, cert 15, DVD)

This strong point about this documentary about Egypt’s Tahrir Square is the group of protestors it follows. They’re a mixed bag – men and women, largely secular but with one member of the Muslim brotherhood among them, and a range of ages, though mostly on the young side. This mix allows us to get a range of views as first the protests of Tahrir Square in 2011 oust President Mubarak, then later start the whole process again against Muhammad Morsi, culminating in the election in 2013 of Adly Mansour as acting president. In the foreground is the immense optimism of Tahrir Square, buzzing like a festival when the headliners are great, and in the background, constantly, the military who remain de facto in charge throughout. Highly informative, passionate and interesting.

The Square – at Amazon

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (New Wave, cert 12, DVD)

If a film about a Roma man trying to get medical help for his wife after she miscarries doesn’t exactly sound like High Society, then how much less excited might the intended reader of these words be if I also mention that the story is a true one and that it’s re-enacted by the people it happened to, all non-actors? Those were my leaden expectations when I slotted the disc into the player, but I was blown away by what I saw: an extremely bare bones, show-don’t-tell piece of expert film-making that uses its simple, heartfelt story to show us the lives of people who are so engaged in the scrabble of keeping body and soul together, especially in winter-frozen Bosnia, that they are never going to move up the social scale. Whether they want to is a different matter, and is something that director Danis Tanovic only hints at, all part of the subtlety of a film that works for many reasons, but not least because it is at bottom about the love Nazif has for Senada, a woman he clearly adores.

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker – at Amazon

Haunter (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Cult director Vincenzo Natali gave us Cube and Splice, so that’s two points to him. Here he kind of mashes Groundhog Day and The Exorcist together into a horror film about a girl (Abigail Breslin) who seems to be living the same day over and over in a haunted house. Except, we learn unspoilerishly early on, that she is the one doing the haunting. Natali seems to be branching out here, perhaps trying to make a bid for the Hollywood big time with less a high concept movie than a formidably plotted story that heaves with Hollywood horror staples – the ouija board, the brother with an imaginary friend, the scrapbook full of newspaper cuttings about disappeared girls, the static on the telephone line, the mist, the clock hands spinning. It goes on, but Natali handles it all extremely well, as if trying to out-Insidious Insidious.

Haunter – at Amazon

In Bloom (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)

Kitchen-sink miserablism from post-Soviet Georgia, where a couple of schoolgirls sit on the cusp of womanhood. Which will either bring them the joys of the western liberal life, cash and fun, or, more likely, servitude as some local teenager’s young bride. Which is it to be for our girls – the pretty and feisty Natia (Mariam Bokeria) and the passive and baleful Eka (Lika Babluani)? Since the writer director’s name is Nana Ekvtimishvili and one character is called Eka Khizanishvili – don’t try this while drunk – it’s possible there’s a bit of autobiographical backstory in this almost relentlessly gloomy though undeniably brilliantly acted drama. That, and the glimpses of life in a society alien to most of us – queues for bread, a war not far away, the medieval even closer – are what make Ekvtimishvili’s feature debut (directed with Simon Groß) worth a go.

In Bloom – at Amazon

The Driver (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray)

This is not to be confused with the Nicolas Winding Refn/Ryan Gosling Drive. Though within seconds of the moody opening of this 1978 actioner it’s clear both Refn and Gosling have watched this film avidly – the director for the nighttime shopfront lighting harking back to 1950s cop noir, the actor taking notes off the impassive performance by Ryan O’Neal, better than he’s ever been as the getaway driver whom cop Bruce Dern (over-mannered) is determined to catch on his one last job. Walter Hill has probably never been better either, his second directorial effort worth watching for the opening chase sequence alone. And having just watched the execrable (another word for “shit”) Need for Speed (review next week), which is nothing but car chases done badly, what a relief it was when it became immediately apparent that Hill really knows how to do this stuff. As for the sequence where an inscrutable O’Neal sets about destroying a beautiful top-of-the-range Mercedes in an underground car park, it’s a classic. As is the film.

The Driver – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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