19 October 2015-10-19

Out This Week

Slow West (Lionsgate, cert 15)

One of the best westerns for some time, Slow West plays with the tropes of the pulp magazines that first connected the Old West with a reading public – the glamour, the danger, the hardship and the austere beauty are all here in Scotsman John Maclean’s really rather extraordinary feature debut. It’s framed like an odd-couple road movie, with Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naive, priggish kid following Rose, his one true love (Caren Pistorius, a star), from Scotland across the ocean to America, and then across the increasingly wild badlands. Joining him on the journey is Michael Fassbender as a bounty hunter – there’s a price on Rose’s head, though the youngster doesn’t know it – and following these two, like scavenging beasts, is a gang of properly bad guys, led by a piss-and-vinegar Ben Mendelsohn in a gigantic buffalo-skin coat. Fassbender plays the mercenary-but-decent Silas as 50 per cent Clint Eastwood, and director Maclean borrows that sense of leanness from Eastwood too, and his picture of a down-at-heel, nailed-together, planks-and-bottles Wild West could almost be lifted from High Plains Drifter, though Robbie Ryan’s cinematography adds an extra sparkle. If it wanders towards cliché, that’s because it’s meant to, Maclean enlivening a campfire singalong with a smattering of off-screen orchestra as if to say “Back atcha”. He’s not just smart, but an excellent builder of tension, the entire film in fact one long slow build towards a finale that manages to be gruesome, funny, cathartic and beautiful all at the same time. Yup, unmissable.

Slow West – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Cop Car (Universal, cert 15)

This elegant, gripping thriller is pretty much a three-hander. On one side there’s a couple of runaway kids – perhaps 11-years-old – who find a cop car which appears to have been abandoned. Tentatively they play around in it, then start it, then drive it away down the highway – we’re in the middle of rural nowhere so no one stops them. On the other is Kevin Bacon, sporting a bad-man’s moustache, as the bad cop whose car contains… well, that would be telling. The rest of the film cats-and-mouses between the two parties, the impossibly naive kids who touchingly think they’re grown-up because they’re in this car, and the cop trying to do his best not to let on to his colleagues that he’s lost his car, while trying to find the kids and get the car back, before they discover what it is that the car contains. Diners and backroads, homesteads and wide open spaces, director Jon Watts dredges everything in Americana, and makes much of the kids’ fragility, as they play, in heart-in-mouth scenes, with the guns, defibrillators and other potentially lethal paraphernalia you tend to find in a cop car. It’s a high-concept B movie of real distinction, with its own languid pace and a discordant jazz-drone soundtrack suggesting everything’s a little off kilter, and so you nod indulgently it as it builds towards an OK Corral ending that’s a little fanciful, a touch overwrought and very bloody.

Cop Car – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Knock Knock (EV, cert 18)

Eli Roth’s remake of the 1977 cult film Death Game stars Keanu Reeves as a uxorious husband whose gorgeous wife and kids go away for the weekend, leaving the successful architect alone to finish some swish project in his fabulously appointed home. That evening, in the pouring rain, two wet, cold (and hot) girls knock on the door in a state of distress. Being the gent, Keanu invites them in. And being wicked minxes, the girls seduce him. Well what middle aged man of 43 (ahem) could resist? I say 1977, but there’s a lot more 1967 in Roth’s version of events – by the 1970s protagonists in films were always guilty; Keanu, by contrast, is simply an innocent man led astray by his dick. Roth also piles on the Hammer horror thunder and lightning here and there, to suggest higher powers (again, more 60s than 70s), though Roth insists the time is right here in the twentyteens with protests-too-much references to Uber and iPads, Facebook and what have you. Keanu is fabulous as the initially broad-minded guy who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the girls’ increasingly sexual overtures (they say they’re 15, just one of a string of lies). He’s fabulous, too, as the man whose sexual urges finally sumo-flip him, Roth reminding us here of the sex/horror mash-up that was Motel. And Keanu’s fabulous again as the increasingly angry victim of the girls’ blackmail attempts/revenge plans. Why are they doing it? Roth inserts a line about Keanu being from “1% land” – more updating overload. If you want a horror film with the zeitgeist hardwired, go elsewhere. But Knock Knock works well as a fun, nasty exercise in victim-baiting, and in Keanu Reeves Roth has an actor always at his best when he’s playing back-to-the-wall characters.

Knock Knock – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Match (Praslin, cert 15)

And yet another small, tight film with a tiny cast. This time there are just three players – Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard and Patrick Stewart, the first two playing a woman and her husband interviewing the latter, a New York dance teacher at the end of a seriously successful career. For her PhD, she says. This is not at all true, and as the spoilerish reveal arrives – once the characters have loosened up with booze and weed – the film shifts into a discussion of 1960s morality, or lack thereof. It seems that Stewart had a lot of sex back then, both straight and gay, and has left behind a certain amount of damage. More than this I cannot say. What I can say is that the theatrical origins of this story weigh heavy on it for a while, until things start to take off about halfway through. At this point I suddenly understood the point of Gugino, looking much younger and more attractive than she did in San Andreas, where she was required to act not only against a younger, rackier Alexandra Daddario, but also against a faceful of Botox. Here, she holds her own against Stewart, which is an achievement considering he’s playing a booming, flamboyant creature of the stage. More surprising, maybe, is Lillard, who starts quietly as a character on the sidelines but slides more towards centre stage as the film’s big reveal arrives – you can guess what it is already, I’ll bet. Here, the entire thing catches fire, melodramatically, for sure, but on fire it most surely is.

Match – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Overnight (Universal, cert 15)

Yet another tiny film. Only four people in this one, Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling as an uptight married couple who have just moved to LA. Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche as the effusively friendly couple who befriend them so fulsomely that we immediately know something is up. So, Scott and Schilling turn up for dinner, with their kid in tow, and are first subjected to hospitality of an epic sort, in a house that marks Schwartzman and Godrèche out as super-successful, before the guests are invited to let their kid sleep over, and are then plied with booze and drugs. And thus begins a long night of through-the-fingers embarrassment – mostly related to matters sexual – which comes across as if Abigail’s Party had been crossed with the Danish comedy Klown. Or, put another way, as if Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice had been a) funny and b) sexy. And if none of those references mean anything to you, just laugh at the man with the big penis and the man with the small penis. Guess which is which?

The Overnight – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Friday Download: The Movie (Spirit, cert PG)

Friday Download is a British TV show about a gang of cool kids who do cool stuff – such as appear in a British TV show. Think The Monkees for its knockabout and self-referential attitude and much of its humour. For this spin-off movie, the gang go on holiday – as is written in movie spin-off lore – but to the Downloaders’ credit, they don’t head off to sunny climes, as The Inbetweeners did. Instead it’s all aboard a rickety old van for a trip to a big old house, which is of course haunted. A live-action Scooby Doo is the result, with the same sort of genial ramshackle energy, some quite good jokes (writer Toby Davies has worked with Mitchell and Webb, hence a brief cameo by David Mitchell), some rather fine if cheap special effects and a couple of half OK songs by The Vamps and various members of the crew. It’s not for me, obviously, and if you’re a girl who’s yet to have that special talk with your mum, it might just be for you. Though mum might worry it’s a bit too frightening for you, like she’s got any idea.

Friday Download: The Movie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Soaked in Bleach (Platform, cert E)

Did Courtney Love kill Kurt Cobain? Let’s put that another, slightly less litigious way. Did Love know more was afoot than she was letting on when Kurt Cobain was announced as missing a few days before he wound up dead, apparently from suicide? Tom Grant, the private eye Love hired to find him, is convinced she was a lot more involved than she says, and is the foundations, walls and roof of Benjamin Statler’s late-in-the-day documentary. In some not-awful drama-doc footage, and assisted greatly by the recordings of telephone conversations with Love and most particularly with her close ally and music attorney Rosemary Carroll – which Grant made when he started to have his suspicions – we get the official story (the suicidally inclined Cobain escapes from rehab, buys a gun and a load of heroin, then heads off to a remote cabin, barricades himself in, takes loads of skag and shoots himself). In slightly ramshackle fashion, and without at any point making the throughline as clear as I have just there, the film then, with some (though not enough, if I’m being just) forensic detail, takes apart that order of events. We discover that Kurt was neither personally suicidal, nor did he come from a family of suicidal uncles, as is often suggested, not least by Courtney Love. A barrage of doctors stand up to point out that no one takes that large an amount of heroin and then shoots themself. The position of the suicide weapon seems all wrong. The cabin wasn’t barricaded. The suicide note seems forged. And so on. If you’re not totally convinced by the end, as I wasn’t – because Grant and Statler’s contentions are hardly given a thorough stress-testing – there’s certainly a lot of chin-strokey material to give pause. More than pause, in fact. And the fact that Kurt seemed to be on the verge of divorcing Courtney – and that a pre-nuptial agreement they’d signed meant she’d get nothing – certainly doesn’t make her position look any better. Cui bono, as they say in Latin. Or, as we now say in English, follow the money.

Soaked in Bleach – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2015

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