Out This Week
Trainwreck (Universal, cert 15)
Amy Schumer takes that slightly fey, dizzy-smart, passive-aggressive female comedy type (Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham, Jenny Slate, Desiree Akhavan) and sticks a rocket up front and back passages in this very New York and very funny comedy.
Schumer is the journalist on a self-important magazine sent off on a sports assignment even though she has no interest in … in fact it barely matters what the plot is, since all it’s there for is to give Schumer enough space to play keepie-uppie with the comedy ball.
This she does, riffing hard on modern living as it affects a sexually active woman in the 21st century. When you hit resistance, you hit paydirt, said Mr Freud (sort of ) and Schumer aims for jokes that transgress what most comedians, especially women, write about – beating up the stepkids, the effect of garlic on the taste of sperm, how a tampon found in the toilet by a visiting gentleman might change the relationship, even Woody Allen and Soon Yi come in for a bit of stick (a no-go for New York comedians at least).
She also writes good characters, and there are a lot of dreadful comic creations here – as well as the vile British harridan editor (Tilda Swinton, genuinely inspired), there’s the foul-mouthed dad, the professional athlete whose competitiveness is actually just monetised meanness and gracelessness (nicely observed), the panhandler with a cynical line for everyone. Brie Larson plays Schumer’s happy, settled sister, the yin to her yang, and a clutch of sports stars, including LeBron James, turn up to show they can act and do comedy, and they can.
If you’ve no idea who James is, be warned that Schumer isn’t tailoring her film (a Judd Apatow directing job, though it could be anybody) at you, and it’s full of very specific New York Right Now references. Even so, you’ll laugh. Well, I did.
Mistress America (Fox, cert 15)
Talking of which (the dizzy/smart female comedy type), here’s Greta Gerwig getting more use out of her Frances Ha character – an uncool failure utterly obsessed with being a cool success.
Face of the future Lola Kirke plays Tracy, the ingénue in New York looking up the older more worldly Brooke (Gerwig) – one’s mother is about to marry the other’s father, making them sisters of one sort or another – and being shown the ropes in the big city.
Director Noah Baumbach and co-writer Gerwig, knowing that a little of this dizzy/aggressive shtick goes a long way, keep the film moving at speed, so we get an almost Rocky-montage level of writing as Tracy and Brooke hit the town doing all the cool stuff with all the cool people, while prospective restaurateur/eventeuse Brooke keeps up a breathless commentary on the totality of life as it touches her – “My restaurant should do a pirogi, a fusion pirogi…” seguing manically into “Autodidact is one of the words I taught myself…” Filter is there none, every thought gets expressed in this representation of a supreme form of narcissism.
If there’s one single utterly brilliant thing about Gerwig, it’s the targeting of her satire – the gruesomely up themselves. However, all this “Me” business is extremely wearing, and Gerwig and Baumbach know it is. So at a certain point they shift the action to the suburbs, where Brooke has taken Tracy so they can hit up an old boyfriend of hers for investment cash for the restaurant. And here, beautifully executed and exquisitely played, a riotously fast French-style ensemble farce plays out, which lifts the film from the potentially enervating to the genuinely entertaining.
Kirke is a camera magnet, which helps the film enormously. If only she’d give up the Steve McQueen tic shit – waggling various body parts about – and lose the acute sense of her own breasts.
Dressed as a Girl (Peccadillo, cert 15)
Hackney in North London has become the capital of UK hipsterdom – the home of the beard. This fact alone makes this documentary about the area’s drag scene more interesting, because there’s nothing hip about drag. Mouthing Minnelli with lippie smeared across your face isn’t an exercise in studied cool. But this documentary never makes the comparison, never assesses the world it’s delineating against any other yardstick except its own. It’s refreshingly old-school in fact, 1960s-ish in its Maysles-like focus on scenester Jonny Woo, Holestar (“the tranny with a fanny” – ie a woman who does drag!), Scottee (touring his one-man/woman show about growing up different and bullied), Amber (an ex skinhead now embarking on gender re-assignment) and other performers who orbit the scene that nucleated around 2003’s Gay Disco.
But mostly it’s about Woo and John Sizzle, another man of a certain age who talks a good talk and is, like Woo, facing up to the fact that drag and the hedonistic urban gay lifestyle is a young man’s game. And since they’re both 40 (being generous)…
And that’s the point of this meandering, bittersweet and genuinely life-affirming film – sex and death, the two biggies. Give director Colin Rothbart 20 minutes to insinuate himself into your psyche and you’ll probably be captivated.
The Man from Uncle (Warner, cert 12)
The original Man from Uncle was a cool, witty take-off of 007 – a TV James Bond with two spies instead of one, a prototype buy-one-get-one-free deal.
Guy Ritchie, working from a perky screenplay co-written with Lionel Wigram understands that. As does Henry Cavill, over-modulating his voice in an approximation of Robert Vaughn’s, and interacting well with Armie Hammer, as Ilya Kuryakin, a Red superspy who’s probably been dipping into the jar of hormones reserved for Soviet athletes and is subsequently permanently in a ’roid rage.
The film brings the two men from different global superpowers together early on and sets them off on the hunt for a common enemy who’s about to do something dastardly with a nuke.
Their relationship, cool but cordial in the original series, is relentlessly antagonistic here, and once Ritchie/Wigram throw superhot Alicia Vikander between them – dressed 1960s-style in a series of eye-catching Quant and Dior, Youthquake and scooter boots combos – things only get antsier.
Maybe this aggro is to distract from the fact that there isn’t really a plot; in fact if you were to remove Vikander and the antagonism, the entire film would read as an exercise in crossing off entries on a list put together while Ritchie and Wigram gorged on old box sets of the original series.
So we get individual quippy scenes, plenty of antique spy-tech (the Russian stuff being always more advanced is one of the film’s few good running jokes), a loquacious Bond villain, a chase, an island lair, some thrumming Morricone-influenced pop music, whipped together in flash Ritchie style.
Clearly designed as the origin story intended to launch a franchise, it’s all tentpole and no tent.
Ruined Heart (Third Window, cert 18)
Another Love Story between a Criminal and a Whore is this Filipino film’s subtitle, that “Another” being the operative word. There have been so many films of this sort, writer-director-artist Khavn is suggesting, that we don’t actually need characters sketching in any more, or plots, or even dialogue.
And there aren’t any of those things in this film, which consists simply of highly recognisable scenes – gangsters getting ugly with people, having sex with impossibly hot women, at parties, killing for fun, killing for business, and so on… Like Jeremy Deller’s art installation Acid Brass, which rescored acid house and techno music for a brass band, Khavn takes a conceptual leap by getting master cinematographer Christopher Doyle on board to rework familiar scenes as exercises in style, lighting, lenses and camera and digital effects.
If you’re aware of Doyle’s work – In the Mood for Love, Hero, 2046 – you’ll know he’s a rock’n’roll rebel fond of a lush image, a neon light, a brushed texture. He is really given his head here, and delivers an arresting series of breathtaking compositions. Khavn, meanwhile, doesn’t hold back. When these gangsters party, for instance, they party hard, and suddenly all those Scorsese-influenced shindigs seem just a bit silly compared to the bacchanal of sucking and fucking, snorting and blowing which seems exactly how you imagine a gangster – drugs and women not a problem, and no need to get up for work in the morning – might do it.
It’s a short film, at 70-something minutes, and just as the suspicion is taking wing that this is not much more than a showcase for Doyle’s techniques, magical though they are, this brush past the playbooks of Jodorowsky and Lynch, Fellini and Sorrentino, not forgetting a touch of Benny Hill, is over. I absolutely loved it.
Colt 45 (Altitude, cert 15)
The names Gérard Lanvin and Joey Starr are prominent in the billing of this fairly standard French cop thriller. But it’s Ymanol Perset who is its star, playing a crack shot who prefers to stay working in the bowels of the cop shop rather than running around getting bad guys. Until circumstances force him out onto the streets.
A dead dad who was himself an officer, an older-man father figure, a bent copper on the take, shady politics much higher up in the police food chain, all are present and correct in this weakly scripted but forcefully played policier, French to its fingertips in its preference for grizzled middle aged guys.
Perset has the face and abs of a pin-up star, and director Fabrice du Welz gives us a few free shots of various muscle groups doing their thing to reinforce the point.
The brilliant Benoit Debie (Spring Breakers, Enter the Void) is cinematographer, so it looks a billion euros, and marks another rung on the gradual rise of du Welz to some sort of international standing. Don’t do the dialogue next time, Fabrice, though eh?
Paper Towns (Fox, cert 12)
Having astonished and delighted in Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel, Cara Delevingne comes a bit unstuck in a pretty-much-all-unstuck film adaptation of one of John Green’s YA novels.
She’s the manic pixie dream girl who turns timid neighbour Quentin’s (Nat Wolff) head in this ill-conceived attempt to cross a John Hughes high school comedy with the sort of “last summer of immaturity” dramas exemplified by The Last Picture Show.
Part one sees Quentin re-connecting with childhood friend Margo (Delevingne), who has in the intervening years become the coolest girl in school, or so we’re told. In fact Margo is patently a bitch and a fraud, but hey. Then, in a gear change, Margo disappears, prompting Quentin to embark on a massive search to find her, this eventually leading to a cross-country road trip with friends along for the ride. None of these friends points out that Margo’s not worth finding, but… again… hey.
And so, a teen romance has become a comic road trip. If you can chop onions, take a nap or catch up on some online paperwork, the second half of this film is worth hanging on for, because it’s genuinely sweet and funny watching a car full of variously nerdy teen kids bicker their way towards upstate New York.
Austin Abrams, as Wolff’s sex-obsessed Superbad-inflected friend is very funny. Justice Smith, as the supernerd Radar, does a lovely comic variation on Richard Ayoade’s character in The IT Crowd. Jaz Sinclair is convincingly hostile as Radar’s very needy girlfriend. But most interesting of all is Halston Sage as Lacey, the school hottie who is savvier than anyone gives her credit for.
Lacey, and Sage’s playing of her, detonates what remains of Margo’s character since she’s the sort of charming, clever, gracious and sexy girl that Margo isn’t, and tough as nails too. It’s all directed competently, nothing snags, by Jake Schreier, as if he believes in what he’s doing. It’s nice, the acting’s great, but it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t. Best film of the year. Just kidding.
Paper Towns – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2015