Out in the UK This Week
Felony (Solo, cert 15, digital)
Like an Australian End of Watch, a detective drama that shows cops as “just guys”, guys who get themselves into trouble by over-relying on the privileges of the job. In this case a brave and decent cop with a few drinks inside him, who knocks a kid off his bike on the way home and believes he can cover it up. But the kid ends up in a coma in hospital, and the cop is eaten up with remorse, guilt and indecision as to whether to fess up. Joel Edgerton plays the cop as a flawed tragic hero, and also wrote this flavoursome and complex script. He’s backed up by another blinding performance by Tom Wilkinson, complete with wandering Aussie accent, as the senior cop being encouraged to take down the errant knight by his chippy, ambitious subordinate (Jai Courtney). Edgerton hasn’t quite worked out if the film is about his character or Courtney’s and gives Wilkinson more screen time than the drama requires (though it’s always a pleasure) but it’s refreshing to see morality portrayed as a murky business, and Edgerton also remembers that this is a story, not a lecture on ethics, and throws in a few neat twists just when they’re needed.
Godzilla (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
The follow up to Monsters – which was more an indie remake of the 1934 rom-com It Happened One Night than a real monster movie. And writer/director Gareth Edwards at first tries to pull off the same trick – a monster movie masquerading as a romance, between Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston, then between their son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Elizabeth Olsen. However, Godzilla, massive, impressive and with an awesome bellow, will keep getting in the way. In this film the humans – often in fetching old-school rubbery, rivetty nuclear-radiation suits that are a nod to the Toho Studios original – are there to look vulnerable, not heroic. Which gives Taylor-Johnson very little to do, Olsen even less, while Binoche and Cranston… I hope they were well paid. Godzilla is a triumph of really good special effects used intensely well; but even more so of intelligent sound design that knows how to impress. Watch it with the sound turned right up and blow out the speakers.
All This Mayhem (Koch, cert 15, DVD/digital)
A documentary about two skateboarding brothers from Australia, Tas and Ben Pappas, who came from a fractured family background, but whose innate ability bussed them to the top of international skateboarding stardom. Or would have done, if their lack of preparedness for the big time hadn’t undone them. This is classic rags-and-back stuff, set against a backdrop of the 1990s, when Tony Hawk was king of the half-pipe and cocaine was the drug of choice. Or acid. Or booze. Tas Pappas, wild-eyed with natural gnarliness – “He was just a natural asshole” says one of his peers – is the talking head linking a lot of footage from back in the day. The Pappas story is well told, no excuses are made for their appalling, and eventually criminal conduct, though under it all is the tacit explanation as to why Hawk is still a name but the clearly more naturally talented Pappas boys barely register – they might have known kickflips backwards but they didn’t know how to play the game. Gripping.
Le Jour Se Lève (StudioCanal, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
For its 75th anniversary, a restoration of Marcel Carné’s drama which was nominated at the 1939 Venice Film Festival for the Mussolini Cup – wonder what happened to that? Telling in flashbacks the story of a murderer (Jean Gabin) at bay, the two women in his life, and the efforts of cops to take the man dead or alive, it’s an astonishingly modern looking film, full of the sort of bravura camera shots which Orson Welles would make his own two years later in Citizen Kane. Gabin’s highly naturalistic performance as François, a sandblaster blown off course by the swish of a skirt, is brilliantly offset by Jules Berry’s exquisite confection of old world manners and stagecraft, as Monsieur Valentin, the ageing vaudeville dog trainer who becomes his nemesis. Any plot involving a sandblaster and a dog act has got to be worth a look, but you could happily also watch this film just for the clothes – Berry’s fabulous dogtooth overcoat, Gabin’s fashion-forward leather jacket, Jacqueline Laurent’s beautifully tailored white dress (she’s the good girl) as well as bad-girl Arietty’s “come up and see me” outfits. As for the restoration, it’s obvious when we move from first to second generation material, which happens not too often, because the image blurs away from total gorgeousness, with all the tones distinct and discrete, though I could do without what looks like faux grain, which seems to be a fashion. This film was in the top ten of Sight and Sound’s Best Films list when it was first compiled in 1952. Now it’s not even in the top 250. That can’t be right.
Soul Boys of the Western World (Metrodome, cert E, Blu-ray/DVD)
In the 1980s, if you were British and interested in pop music, you were either a Spandau Ballet or a Duran Duran fan. That’s the idea behind this revisionist history of the Spands that makes great claims for their legacy. We follow the band on the time-honoured path – the East End boys who made it big on about their third go, having embraced the pantaloons and jackboots of the New Romantic movement, then went on to ride the 1980s with a succession of hits, before drugs and disagreement over royalties sealed their doom. This, and their subsequent regrouping in 2009, is all told with miles of archive footage. And it’s this that is the great strength of George Hencken’s clear-headed, plainly structured movie – the guys’ often wooden voiceover hardly helping dispel the suspicion that the movie and the reunion are more about pension planning than a renewed passion for singing Gold, Through the Barricades and True.
Hide Your Smiling Faces (Matchbox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Three lads deal with the fallout from a friend’s fatal run-in with a firearm in this River’s Edge-ish drama suffused with death imagery and set in the American backwoods. It’s had very good reviews, though to be honest I didn’t feel it. Maybe my sense of poetry is dead, because it is an intensely meditative film, all wind and rain and dogs barking in the distance, with a properly gloomy soundtrack to match. Ryan Jones is effective as the audience avatar, while Nathan Varnson and Thomas Cruz’s performances are slightly overshadowed by the fact that they look like loans from an Abercrombie and Fitch calendar – stars of the future, no doubt.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
That’s the plot – a Swedish centenarian escapes from the old-folks home he has only recently been incarcerated in, and heads off on a semi-bewildered road-trip adventure, while the interwoven second strand of the film fills in his vital role in 20th century world history – meeting General Franco, President Truman, Stalin and Einstein, eventually becoming a double agent instrumental in ending the Cold War. The oldster looks like Benjamin Button when he was still a scrotal wrinkle, though the film is closer in tone to the idiot-abroad antics of Forrest Gump, though with an admixture of Amélie’s wilful kookiness. Robert Gustafsson, not quite 50 when this was made, is never a really convincing old guy, though he is a good deadpan, and without him I doubt I would have made it to the end. Whimsy makes me want to spit.
© Steve Morrissey 2014