Out This Week
Marshland (Altitude, cert 15)
A mismatched-buddy-cop drama set in Spain’s Guadalquivir Marshes – delivering a bit of Beasts of the Southern Wild watery otherness – and marked out by several outstanding features. No, not the murder, of two sexually active teenage girls. That’s pretty standard. Nor the reason why they were murdered. Again, not much to see here. Instead it’s the exquisite looks captured by director Alberto Rodriguez and cinematographer Alex Catalán, who lay lush images over a slow, almost ambient soundtrack to create an almost hypnotic effect. This is totally, brilliantly, at odds with the tacitly antagonistic relationship between the two men, who, in 1981 Spain, a country new to the democratic fold, find their relative power positions reversed – the older man (Javier Gutiérrez), a brute who used to be something in “Franco’s Gestapo”, the younger man (Raúl Arévalo) a meditative, relative peacenik product of the new Spain. Strangely, considering how languorously everything proceeds, the case itself is solved in something of rush towards the end. Giving the game away, perhaps, that the plot is only a peg, on which to hang a lot of atmosphere, some remarkable looking people (Jesús Castro’s piercing eyes will surely buy him a ticket to Hollywood), an evocative landscape, and some wonderful cinematography. There’s even a new spin on that old staple, the car chase. A compelling watch.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Disney, cert 12)
Simultaneously busy and lazy, Joss Whedon’s second Avengers outing gets the gang back together to combat a “global peacekeeping initiative” intelligence which has gone rogue, invaded the internet and is now building itself a body, its soul also on order. It’s basically a vampire story – Iron Man’s’ techno-tinkering has woken this malevolence with a drop of the data equivalent of blood – with the entire team as superhuman Van Helsings chasing after it and trying to kill it with the superhero equivalent of a magic bullet. No, Kevin, superheroes are not magic. That’s ridiculous. They’re creatures of fantasy. But never mind all that, there’s also the all-important universe-building aspect of the Avengers to be done, not to mention the franchise-extending, so more side characters are introduced (played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and we even get a bit of pseudo-psychological backstory, since this Ultron character is capable of accessing a character’s inner fears – enter even more characters (Julie Delpy, Idris Elba and Hayley Atwell doing the honours) though for such a brief time you wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea. There are simply, like the early X-Men films, too many characters here, chasing too much plot in too small a space – Jeremy Renner as the archer person, Hawkeye, what was ever the point of that? Added to that, Whedon’s customary quippy, culturally tuned-in dialogue is in short supply, and the CG isn’t quite up to the mark – it’s the old foreground/background separation issue again, techies. It’s not all disappointment, though. The battles resonate – especially the Iron Man/Hulk play-wrestling bout – the romance between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is tender and the few smartass lines that Whedon has finally got down to writing do hit home. On balance, Whedon somehow pulls off this eat-all-you-can smorgasbord of junk food, though there’s a general lack of wow that is best summed up in two tiny details – Scarlett Johansson looks less than megababelicious, and Ultron’s voice, provided by James Spader, is in the same ironic register as Robert Downey Jr’s, which is confusing, and is precisely the sort of wrinkle someone, early on, should have fixed.
Anti-Social (Spirit, cert 15)
On the blud-bruv-sweet spectrum, Reg Traviss’s pretty decent London gangster flick is the story of two brothers – Dee (Gregg Sulkin) is the handsome graffiti artist offered a big break and a bright future in Berlin, Europe’s new home of hip. While Josh Myers plays his altogether more proletarian brother Marcus, a career criminal whose exploits eventually threaten to ruin Dee’s future. That’s your film – will Dee escape before Marcus’s interactions with gangs, the law, baseball bats and shooters send everything south? If I never entirely bought Sulkin as a geezer – and the film tells us Dee and Marcus are half-brothers, so it knows there’s a problem here – I bought him enough, and director Traviss and his excellent editor Edmund Swabey intercut average scenes of “keeping it real” exposition and character development with some properly tense fast-cut action. Side details impress, too, such as the casting of the incredibly sexy Caroline Ford in a small but entirely key role, and there’s a new pulsing, keening song from Shara Nelson which made me pause the film and try to find out what the hell happened to her since Massive Attack. There’s room for just one more London crime flick after all, it seems.
The Dance of Reality (Curzon, cert 18)
It’s the refuge of the scoundrel, surrealism, is it not? Shot in buzzing colour, here is the revered Alejandro Jodorowsky’s … well, what is it? It’s billed as his autobiographical early years, but in fact it’s more a film about his father, and how this bullying communist in his native 1930s Chile tried to turn the son he suspected of being a sissy into a man. This while planning the assassination of Chile’s president. Realism is not on offer – Jodorowsky’s mother sings all her lines in an operatic style, but for the most part it’s a story told in the South American High Soap style, of shouting lines, emotions clearly on display, nothing nuanced when it can be spelled out. Jodorowsky throws in some épater le bourgeois shock scenes – mother lifting her skirts and pissing all over father to save his life – has his extras all dressed in masks, in the style of a mummer’s play, and so on. If you don’t understand it you’re not smart enough, is the idea – a classic attack strategy of the 1960s avant garde (whose supporters would, using this argument, defend any old tat by Fellini or Buñuel, to both of whom Jodorowsky owes a debt). Really, under all the flummery and distancing effects and so on, it’s the story of being Jewish in a town full of gentiles, with a tough, essentially insane dad and a soft, airy-fairy mum, the old Jodorowsky clearly seeing himself as a synthesis of the two. The man himself, dressed in a white suit, turns up as a guardian angel figure guiding his younger self at key moments, and the great man’s own son plays his father. A nice Freudian touch.
The Tribe (Metrodome, cert 18)
Now this is a hard sell – a Ukrainian drama in sign language, no subtitles, no nothing – but a worthwhile one, I promise you. And it works because this film following a new arrival into a tough residential school for the deaf deals either in matters so mundane (our guy arrives and is sent to the principal’s office, is assigned a bunk in a room, meets the usual school stereotypes), or so brutally direct (sex, violence and crime, in a nutshell) that we’re never in any doubt as to what’s going on. And the teenage modus operandi on display is familiar – unlike the one you often encounter in US high school movies, which seem to exist in a hyperventilating vacuum (if such a thing is possible). By which I mean that the unnamed protagonist Sergey (I’m sure he is named in sign language, but as I say…) is soon involved in the business of renting out the vaginas of two of the school’s more attractive girls to lorry drivers down at the local truckers’ stop. And finding himself drawn to one of them… the girls, not the drivers. It does not end well. In fact it all ends so badly that this film is likely to stay with you for a long time. On the way it fully justifies its reception at Cannes, where it won the Critics Week Grand Prize, one of many, many festival wins. And of note is the way that writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky subtly extends certain scenes as a concession to the non-deaf. And the way that his locked camera is used as a pitiless unblinking eye. It’s all a bit dour for some tastes, maybe (OK, mine, I admit, though I grant you that not all films can or should be Pitch Perfect) but remarkable in conception, storytelling and execution – the acting alone, by a cast of deaf first-timers, makes it worth a few of your hard-earned.
The Treatment (Peccadillo, cert 18)
The Treatment has been termed Belgian Nordic Noir, because of its dark looks. But it’s much more a standard British policier in storyline and character – troubled cop on the murder trail, most obvious suspect a red herring, jockish camaraderie at work, and all that. What sets it apart and made it very difficult even to get its 18 certificate is its subject matter – the abduction, sexual torturing and murder of young children. Geert von Rampelberg, of Cordon fame, is the too-tortured cop, a man whose own brother’s abduction and murder as a child continues to haunt him – as if we might not already be sympathetic to the plight of abused innocents. And director Hans Herbots ramps up the angst still further by placing this cop, as he works his way through a series of sweaty suspects with poor haircuts, in dark locations illuminated with stabs of light. It’s effective, as is Rampelberg, and the case itself really catches the attention, and the breath at times. But the form itself is so tremendously familiar that it constantly intrudes on the subject matter, which Herbots feels compelled to amplify still further, as if it weren’t sordid enough. He knows…
The Canal (Kaleidoscope, cert 15)
I’ll admit that I watched this Irish horror film because Antonia Campbell Hughes was in it, so impressive in Kelly + Victor, that I’m now something of a groupie for those saucer eyes and that voice – little girl meets one of Satan’s more insinuating angels. However, slight disappointment, she’s not in this film nearly enough. Is merely the slightly lovestruck office colleague of its star, Rupert Evans, who plays the Dublin film archivist who goes ape one night when he discovers that his entirely hot wife (Hannah Hoekstra) is boning the stud (Carl Shaaban) he spotted flirting with her at a party they were both attending. “Just a client,” she says, pacifying him. And shortly afterwards she is dead. But was it Evans, or was it a spirit presence he encountered at a Trainspotting-style shit-besmeared public toilet on the canal towpath on the way home? Or is it something to do with a sinister (and Sinister) series of characters he’s seen on an old film he’s been cataloguing at work? Why two possible sources of woooo? To obscure the fact that this is the old “is he going mad or is the supernatural at work?” plot. This is a wee film with a deliberately 1960s flavour, with Evans the cutout handsome-but-dumb hero/sap, and Steve Oram as the copper investigating the woman’s death, his full range of sarcasm put to fine use (“It’s the husband… always the husband,” he tells the grieving man, with a half-smirk). It’s not It Follows or The Babadook, but Ivan Kavanagh’s film has something of their sense of accumulating dread, is a fine exercise in an unfashionable style of horror, with a cast who are perfect as the types they are meant to be, and its atmosphere is dark, moody and does a lot to hide the fact that the film probably didn’t cost very much to make. Nice work.
The Canal – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2015