Out in the UK This Week
Edge of Tomorrow (Warner, cert 12, digital)
As hyper-aware of his position in the culture as he is of a camera in relation to his three-quarter profile, Tom Cruise knows that a lot of people want to see him taking a kicking. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow as it seems to have become) answers that demand, with Cruise playing a cocky jumped-up PR guy pressganged into the army (which answers the “how come a guy over 50 is still in any army?” question) who then relives the same day over and over again, after he gets contaminated with alien blood. What plays out is a smart, fast Groundhog Day style sci-fi, with Cruise getting the last laugh as the guy who becomes the most formidable fighting machine the army has ever produced. And if that isn’t exactly a surprise in a Cruise film, Emily Blunt as an action heroine is – the non-smiling, super-tough battle vixen role suits her. And she gets to kill Cruise repeatedly too, in the interests of making him better/stronger – because every time he comes back, he comes back with his memories intact. It is in many ways a 1980s action movie, with Bourne Identity director Doug Liman laying on the blue, smoky, flat colour palette as the script by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth runs through a rake of 1980s standbys – the “you don’t know who you really are” plot, the time paradoxes, the Skynet future, the glorying in military hardware. Thirty years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been in this. Thirty years from now Edge of Tomorrow will probably get a remake, and the eightysomething Tom Cruise will probably be its star.
Norte, The End of History (New Wave, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Short review: this is a masterpiece. It’s a four hour epic set in the Philippines and focusing on two individuals. On one side is Fabian (Sid Lucero), a supersmart law student with an interest in moral relativism, postmodernity, all the usual intellectual debates. On the other is Ading (Hazel Orencio), a poor woman whose hardscrabble life selling vegetables is made even tougher when her sweet, harmless husband is sent to jail for murder. I won’t say how these two lives intersect, because it takes two hours for the film to reveal the first of its dramatic switcheroos, and nearly another hour and a half before its second. But both are monumentally dramatic. In between times director Lav Diaz somehow, magically, keeps us transfixed with long, perfectly framed shots that must have been a bugger to compose yet look so effortlessly right. You can see Norte as a state-of-the-nation film, or as one about class, but more than that it’s a simple story of two people – one who has it all and can’t appreciate his good fortune, the other who works, works, works and doesn’t have time for self-pity. Granted, these rich=bad, poor=good positions are a bit schematic, but the acting is so natural and believable, the plot so organic that objections recede as the immersive drama closes over you.
Lilting (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
In subject matter a little like Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, writer/director Khaou Hong’s London-set drama is about the aftermath of a gay young man’s (Andrew Leung) death and the attempts by his lover (Ben Whishaw) to explain the true nature of their relationship to his grieving mother (Cheng Pei-pei). The wrinkle here being that she is Chinese, speaks no English and has been prematurely put in sheltered accommodation “temporarily” by her son just before he died. Good though Whishaw is, it’s Cheng’s film, and she’s a welcome stern presence with questing eyes in her dealings with the over-eager Richard (Whishaw) and with Alan (a rather good Peter Bowles), the randy codger making stinky eyes at her. A bit stagey, but nice.
Postman Pat: The Movie (Lionsgate, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)
The British TV show for pre-schoolers and stoned students gets the big-screen treatment, with Stephen Mangan now providing the voice of Postman Pat. The look and tone remain the same – bright, almost insanely cheerful (“Have a good day,” says Pat’s lovely wife. “I always do,” replies Pat) though Pat appears to have arrived in the world of restructuring, downsizing and all that with a plot that sees the post office taken over by a management wonk with a dastardly plan to outsource everything and replace the postpersons – part social worker, part police, part friend – with robots. Pat, meanwhile, has been persuaded to sign up for a TV talent competition, presided over by one Simon Cowbell. The film is written by Kim Fuller, brother of Simon Cowell’s former business partner Simon Fuller, but there appear to be no axes being ground in a fairly standard “Nasty Simon” portrayal of the big bad judge. As it should be – this is a film for young kids, who won’t care that the unaffected Pat’s singing voice is provided by the over-mannered Ronan Keating and that the odd “moral message” (technology has made us lose sight of the better things in life) seems aimed at their parents. Who might also half chortle at the fact that one of the bots, when being switched off, make a little 2001: A Space Odyssey reference. You know what it is. Cheerful.
Run & Jump (Wildcard, cert 15, DVD)
Here’s an Irish film with an American and a Brit in the key roles. No matter, they’re both talented, with Will Forte as the US shrink embedded in a hurly-burly Irish family, Maxine Peake the wife of the stroke victim he’s observing. So how long before they get into each others pants – that’s the clear expectation with any drama of this sort. But the canny thing about Run & Jump is how much it makes us run and jump as we rush towards what we see as the film’s obvious romantic conclusion. I can’t, in other words, tell you anything more about the plot. What I can say is that Forte, last seen by me in Nebraska, is fine as the mopey scientist but that Peake is miles better as the wife and mother whose bright demeanour is a brassy hat on top of a roiling world of worry. Without Peake, the fact that Run & Jump is a tiny bit long might have been more obvious.
The Wind Rises (StudioCanal, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
The great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki says this is his farewell, and he appears to be going out with a highly personal subject – a film about the Japanese plane designer named Jirô Horikoshi (voiced in the English dub by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the planes he designed in the run-up to (and including) the Second World War. The animation is a gorgeous as ever – the 2D style almost bereft of detail apart from one small, possibly not even that important, eye-grabbing item in every shot (tatami matting, a balustrade, the shadow of a train running along the ground). As for plot, it falls into two halves – the design stuff (based on actual events) and the personal stuff (entirely made up). I found the design stuff to be neither Arthur nor Martha – not detailed enough to engage, nor background enough not to intrude. But the personal stuff – Jiro’s romance with a woman (voice: Emily Blunt) he meets during an earthquake – the earth literally moved – was entirely charming, and the interlude set in a tuberculosis sanatorium which owes a large debt to Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain were also heartwarming and as sure a sign of Miyazaki’s Europhilia as the quotes from Paul Valéry and Christina Rossetti. As for the idea that Miyazaki isn’t addressing the issue of artistic culpability and the Second World War, that’s obviously been put about by people who are both blind and deaf.
Goltzius and the Pelican Company (Axiom, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
After Nightwatching, the second in Peter Greenaway’s Dutch Masters series is big-scale film making, the sort you might remember from his The Thief, the Cook, His Wife and Her Lover. A story about an acting troupe playing out just the naughty bits from the Bible (Sodom & Gomorrah, Salome and John the Baptist, David and Bathsheba etc) gives Greenaway all the canvas he needs to put on a lavish, theatrical and punishingly symmetrical display of painterly mis-en-scenes, a renaissance tale of puckish fancy in which neither the establishing frame – F Murray Abraham’s central European court – nor the stories within it are immune from disruption. It is all very 1980s, though there’s no denying Greenaway’s eye for an arresting image and his actors’ enthusiasm for taking their clothes off (especially the gents with the larger endowments), Abraham’s booming voice somehow grounding everything when the assemblage of nakedness, hysteria, arthouse splatter, varying levels of reality and front- and back-projection threatens to disappear up its own back passage. Welcome back, Mr G.
Goltzius and the Pelican Company – Buy it/watch it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2014