Out This Week
San Andreas (Warner, cert 12)
A disaster movie like they used to make in the 1970s, with Dwayne Johnson as a John Wayne kinda guy – a helicopter pilot whose extraordinary likeability and bravery is simply a case of “just doing my job, ma’am” (actual line from film). And as with the 1970s, there are also girls being bimbos: Carla Gugino as Johnson’s estranged wife – about to marry smirking, rich architect Ioan Gruffudd (his job a nod to Towering Inferno) – and Alexandra Daddario, hired not because she can easily pass for the minor she’s playing (in fact she’s 28) but because she has Hollywood’s most bounteous rack right now, and is happy to deploy it in the parts of the film not dominated by Johnson’s easy charm and manly manliness. Paul Giamatti aims for the “acting in the face of the impossible” Oscar as the seismologist who realises that the mother of all seismic shifts is about to lay waste to much of California – though it’ll take more than mere tectonic apocalypse to move Gugino’s frozen face – but really this is a case of “trust the Rock”, something I was more than happy to do.
The script is lean to the point of the perfunctory, all part of the decision to keep this thing moving, moving, as Johnson pilots his chopper between collapsing buildings and rescues the odd innocent person while thousands die in devastation imagineered out of 9/11-meets-the-2004-tsunami nightmares. Apply popcorn and enjoy.
Little Accidents (Praslin, cert 15)
Another old-school film, this time the sort of downbeat, blue collar affair which Sundance used to champion and which almost killed the movies – people want entertaining, not lecturing, and they’re right to want that.
However, this one stands above the pack, and I could point to all sorts of reasons – the acting, the several spiky dramas that are playing out simultaneously – but mostly I think it’s just down to the sheer innate film-making talent of director Sara Colangelo, who establishes an almost hypnotic rhythm using camera, performance, editing and soundtrack, all faintly reminiscent of David Gordon Green in George Washington mode.
Plot junkies need to know that there are two hooks. In one, Boyd Holbrook is the only surviving miner after an underground accident has killed all his buddies. In the inquiry as to what happened, is he going to toe the company line, or blow the whistle – as the union demands? In the other, Jacob Lofland plays a bullied kid whose “little accident” out in the woods will have a massive impact on the marriage of the mine boss (Josh Lucas) and his wife (Elizabeth Banks).
The three key players are Lofland, Banks and Holbrook. All are good, with Lofland reminding us that he was the kid who could act in Mud in a role that’s pretty much the same thing again, Banks reminding us there are wells of talent behind the dainty features, and Holbrook reminding us that Ryan Gosling isn’t the only charismatic actor in town.
Sara Colangelo, meanwhile, announces herself as a new director to follow. It sounds downbeat, drab and worthy – and, yes, Sundance-y – but I can’t recommend Little Accidents strongly enough.
The Reunion (Soda, cert 15)
Whether you like The Reunion might depend on your attitude to the art of Tracey Emin – psychobabble made tangible, or raw honesty unmuddied by obvious theory? Swedish artist Anna Odell is an Emin-like figure, a woman with a confrontational stare who didn’t get invited to her class reunion a couple of years back and so used the snub as an anchor point for a film.
Part one reconstructs the evening, as if Anna had been invited. It’s a piece of fabulous, almost Festen-like through-the-fingers confrontational drama, built carefully to a screaming hysterical conclusion. Having had her fun as to how the evening might have gone, in part two we see Anna meeting various old class members, showing them the film (which has now become a film within a film) and asking them what they think, and why they didn’t invite her.
None of them ever says “This, Anna. This hysterical, everything-is-about-you, this turning of our downtime into your stock-in-trade, that’s why we didn’t invite you… not to mention that we can see the whites of your eyes around the iris the whole time and it’s unsettling.” Instead Anna takes control of the discourse, and turns the film into an exploration of her school years, when she felt bullied and friendless and low in status.
Watching middle aged people trying, while being filmed, to justify/excuse/condemn the children they once were is a grim and not particularly rewarding process. However, the fascination remains with Odell – hence the Emin reference – who never overtly points out that her entire film is a dish of revenge best served cold, about the low status girl who grew up to attain the very highest cultural status: the artist.
Results (Kaleidoscope, cert 15)
Mumblecore inventor Andrew Bujalski goes to Hollywood and loses a bit of himself on the way. His films – Computer Chess being the most recent example – are about two different types or modes or cultures of person rubbing up against each other, Bujalski shooting it all as if hanging back to watch the sparks fly, in the very lowest of lo-fi ways.
Here he collides professional fitness Nazis Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders with a pizza-eating dough boy, Kevin Corrigan. It’s a slo-mo crash, as Bujalski films tend to be, and Corrigan gets the best of it as his character takes these highly tuned fine specimens and tempts them with drugs and booze, fast food and bad living.
That they succumb at all is one of the film’s weaknesses – Bujalski doesn’t seem to understand there’s an entire philosophy behind people who obsessively train – and that none of the relationships between rich slob Danny (Corrigan), gym-owning loner Trevor (Pearce) and results-focused trainer Kat (Smulders) seem probable.
On a scene-by-scene basis, though, there’s lots to like. Bujalski’s strength is in writing little situations where what is said carries nowhere near as much weight as what is not said. And again and again we get beautiful moments where it’s clear to us what is going on, the fun being that the characters on the screen haven’t the faintest.
52 Tuesdays (Peccadillo, cert 15)
We’re chucked in at the deep end with 52 Tuesdays, whose only real fault is that it’s 20 minutes too long, as teenage girl Billie is told by her lesbian mother that mum wants to transition to the male gender, that Billie’s going to be shipped off to live with her estranged dad for a year, and that the two of them are going to meet up once a week on Tuesday for some “us time”.
As a plot outline, this has all the trappings of the earnest afternoon movie, with misunderstanding being followed by tears and forgiveness. But maybe because this is an Australian film, there’s none of that (OK, there’s a bit) and instead we get a film about a teenager running to the wild side – becoming obsessed with sex and transgressive sexual relationships, taking up in a threesome with some cool kids she’s spied making out in the school theatre props room. The mother, meanwhile, is taking testosterone and preparing to have her breasts removed and moving towards maleness in a matter-of-fact fashion.
Change, the film tells us, is what life is all about, and it drops in quick clips from the day’s news bulletin to remind us of that fact – whether it’s a street riot in Asia or the Costa Concordia becoming beached (which dates the film) – these inserts also giving the film a strongly episodic, 52-part structure.
Don’t bother if you want a film about the transition of Jane to James (the androgynously named actor Del Herbert-Jane just about perfect), because this film is only tangentially about that. Instead it’s about the daughter’s reaction to the process. And it really helps here that in Tilda Cobham-Hervey, director Sophie Hyde has found one of those faces that the camera loves. As Billie runs off the rails, we run with her, realising this isn’t delinquency as such, more a cack-handed attempt to come to terms with a situation. The woman becomes a man as the girl becomes an adult.
Wasp (Matchbox, cert 15)
The classic three-hander has a happy couple whose relationship is disrupted by the arrival of a third person. The twist in Wasp is that the couple are gay, a shiny-skinned, gym-fit pair of successful British guys on a gite holiday in France, and the interloper is a woman – slightly needy and just off a spectacular break-up, and being comforted by old university friend James, slightly to the annoyance of the sardonic Olivier.
The film sells itself as a “can the leopard change its orientation” drama but then upsets this premise early on, as Caroline quizzes the two men about their sexual history. James has a 100 per cent record of only ever sleeping with men. Olivier also scores 100 per cent… but only since he came out. Ah haa.
Caroline muses at this point that she doesn’t really believe in all this “100 per cent gay” stuff, though the quick glances Olivier and Caroline have already been exchanging have rendered this scene and this dialogue unnecessary. That’s perhaps the problem with this film, which relies a little too much on chat, when it might have gone down a Claire Denis route of suggestion and insinuation – cinema rather than literature – and director Philippe Audi-Dor also doesn’t quite seem to know what sort of performances he wants from his actors, who respond with moments of dead air.
But Audi-Dor has an eye for an image, and drops in beauty shots between the escalating confrontations over drinks and games of Truth or Dare (where would films be without Truth or Dare?), and the relentless, almost mocking sound of the cicadas in Provence add their own Greek chorus too.
A Snake of June (Third Window, cert 18)
When Shin’ya Tsukamoto made this monochrome noirish nightmarish erotic thriller in 2002, he was best known in the West as the director of the Tetsuo films, a brace of noirish nightmarish thrillers in which technology and organic forms fused to gruesome (and funny) effect.
A Snake of June eases back a touch on the machinery – though a man with a telescopic, snakelike penis does appear at one point, to little fanfare. Nevertheless, Tsukamoto’s fascination for the tech/flesh interface is apparent in his story about a pretty young woman called Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) who works as a telephone counsellor, one of her clients thanking her for talking him out of suicide by taking up stalking her. This stalking leads to him taking a series of photographs in which our pretty young miss is caught masturbating outdoors in the pouring rain, a marriage to an older, hygiene-obsessed salaryman clearly not bringing home the conjugal bacon.
This is just the first five/ten minutes or so of a remarkably stylish film, now restored for its Blu-ray release, in which Tsukamoto teases the plot one way – her blackmailer sends the woman on a shopping trip to buy a dildo, insert it and then wander the rain-lashed streets while high on the ecstasy of prolonged orgasm – then flips it onto another track entirely, making us the voyeurs and him – the director/narrator/stalker (all Tsukamoto) – the concerned audience stand-in.
If the boring old “male gaze” is one concern – and if anyone is a master of the subjective camera it’s Tsukamoto – the director keeps it lively with laugh-out-loud scenes in which Rinko tasers herself to orgasm, makes interesting points about our culture’s almost fanatical reverence for breasts, drenches everything in persistent typhoons of rain – tears? vaginal gush? – and edits everything in a brutal, and now clearly highly influential style to a tight, asperger-focus rhythm. This frenzied “cinema du look” style is actually the film’s great achievement.
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© Steve Morrissey 2015