21 December 2015-12-21

Out This Week

North V South (Metrodome, cert 18)

For reasons beyond the scope of human wit, the British gangster thriller has become a Christmas fixture, perhaps because it’s endangered, like the brussel sprout. This year’s front-runner takes the gang battle format – there’s a northern mob led by Bernard Hill, and a southern lot led by Steven Berkoff – adds a Romeo and Juliet romance subplot in the shape of a fixer for Hill (Elliott Tittensor) and the daughter of Berkoff (Charlotte Hope), then loads up with wrong’uns (Keith Allen, Geoff Bell, Freema Agyeman) and an exotic (Dom Monot in an Udo Kier role as a raging transvestite psychopath hitman), shakes and stands back. The actors are what make it, with Berkoff and Hill on particularly fine sweary form – if you enjoy people calling each other a cunt, this is your film – though writer/director Steven Nesbit also seemed determined to let us know he knows his Shakespeare, with a King Lear “who will inherit my shit” subplot also intruding, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern avatars turning up in the shape of Brad Moore and Geoff Bell, as a pair of florid verbal henchmen cracking geezerish at the periphery. And there’s a voiceover by Tittensor and Hope. Like Christmas, it’s all a bit overstuffed, with our young lovers as the bread sauce component – bland but probably necessary. Kyle Heslop’s cinematography comes with some lovely visual flourishes, and the soundtrack adds its own depth of atmosphere as things tensely wind towards a very claret-y finish. Like last year’s The Guvnors, and the year before’s Lords of London, North V South strangely defies expectation by being well worth checking out.

North V South – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Precinct Seven Five (E One, cert 15)

“Welcome to the land of Fuck,” says former cop Ken Eurell near the beginning of this documentary, also known as The Seven Five, which tells a tale that would be the stuff of a new Scorsese film, if Scorsese were still making this sort of film. And the central character, disgraced former cop Mikey Dowd, is its Joe Pesci, a fast-talking ball of smug, whaddyagonnado shrugs who sings like a canary about his time as the 75th Precinct’s bentest bad copper. The film kicks off with archive footage showing Dowd confessing to a Grand Jury around 20 years ago and then goes back to the beginning, to tell the story of a smart but greedy rookie cop whorealised there was money to be made on the streets of a city awash with guns and drugs – it was the 1980s. Precinct Seven Five is peopled with characters who look like central casting regulars, mainly the other ex cops who were Dowd’s buddies, and all give off that fuck-you odour of testosterone and middle-aged resignation. Though best of all is Adam Diaz, one of the various drugs barons Dowd and his fellows ended up henching for, a character so fly with his tidy beard, jaunty cap and designer shades, so loquacious – “I don’t like ghetto music. I don’t like that shit. I like Julio Iglesias and Bryan Adams,” – that if Tarantino had created this guy you’d be marking him down for cliched misrepresentation. “I consider myself to be a cop and a gangster,” says Dowd at one point, not a shred of regret, no visible remorse… and I’m not going to say any more about his story, apart from the fact that Dowd was pulling in $24,000 a week from Diaz at one point, that Internal Affairs also get involved, that there is murder, high living, fast cars, most of which you’d expect. But the beauty of Tiller Russell’s documentary is the willingness with which Dowd and fellow former buddies talk about what they did, but also the fact that the story just keeps getting bigger, badder and more amazing. And Russell’s also a dab hand at the dramatic reconstructions (sparsely used) and his editors (Chad Beck and James Carroll) should take a bow for the expert weaving together of original footage, reconstruction, library archive and contemporary talking heads. Very tasty indeed.

Precinct Seven Five aka The Seven Five – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Premature (StudioCanal, cert 15)

Rob, a high school lad, goes to sleep at night, only to awaken the next morning to a repeat of the previous day. But instead of Sonny & Cher on the alarm radio, in Groundhog Day style, he’s got nocturnal ejaculate all over his grey underpants. And the duvet thrown back. And his mother just walking into his bedroom. Premature makes no bones about where it’s coming from – as well as the Groundhog Day idea which forces Rob (John Karna) to repeat the day until he manages full penetrative sex, it throws in standard high-school rom-com stuff about our spunky hero lusting after the school hottie (Carlson Young), when his girl-next-door pal (Katie Findlay, quietly excellent) is not only pretty tasty, but also sweet, smart and likes him for who he is. Essentially, it’s a cheery comedy with an overlay of smut, never particularly funny but relentlessly wry and weird, and deals in such things as the difficulty of getting mayonnaise out of a beard, or piss from your trousers, or whether volleyball is a real sport, or the etiquette of threesomes. I was really not sure about John Karna and his side-parted hair as ejaculator-in-chief and the rest of the cast also felt like escapees from some Disney teen movie from an alternate universe. Maybe that was the idea. It’s been described almost everywhere as American Pie meets Groundhog Day, and of course that was probably the big sell at the pitch meeting. But there’s also something in here, in writing that deliberately wants to embrace “inappropriate” humour, that belongs to neither movie, and it’s there that the film is at its most interesting.

Premature – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Microbe and Gasoline (StudioCanal, cert 15)

Director Michel Gondry drops all the Eternal Sunshine/Mood Indigo whimsy for a refreshingly honest coming-of-ager about two French teenagers who meet at school – Daniel (nickname Microbe on account of his size) is serious and timid, Théo (nickname Gasoil on account of his clothes smelling of his dad’s garage) is well-read and outgoing – and end up becoming firm pals. And that’s it, really, a simple, heartwarming film about two people, a love story, if you will, that should appeal to 14- or 15-year-olds because it talks in language they will understand and approaches the world with a sense of wonder and frustration. In fact, there is actually a plot, about the pair of them building their own car, a sort of motorised shed, and setting off on a cross-country road trip in it. But in fact that’s just a Maguffin. This film is actually just about one boy being in the thrall of another, growing up a touch, and learning that coolness comes from being yourself, rather than having good hair. Great acting too.

Microbe and Gasoline – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Dark Valley (StudioCanal, cert 15)

Here’s a Clint Eastwood film, in all but name, starring Sam Riley as a 19th-century photographer arriving on horseback in a remote South Tyrol valley, where the locals are terrorised by a powerful family, and the droit de seigneur is exercised rigorously whenever a young woman marries. This Man with No Name doesn’t do that much photography for someone who’s ostensibly there for that purpose and director/co-writer Andreas Prochaska cuts Riley’s dialogue to the bone, to keep alive the idea that he might in fact be a German-speaking American. If you can’t guess what this stranger is really doing in the town, where he shacks up with a local family whose daughter is in love with a local swain, then you’ve probably not watched enough westerns. And all the types are present and correct – taciturn hero, giggling inbreed, timorous parson, complicit barkeep, bad cattle baron (adjust for Tyrolean setting). You don’t usually find Hitler popping up in a western, though, but he’s strongly evoked here in the character of local bad man Hans Brenner – a strong charismatic character (played pungently by Tobias Moretti) whose tyrannical rule is tacitly endorsed by the locals. It’s a good story, evocatively shot, with fabulous scenery and a camera-magnetic female lead in the shape of Paula Beer. What it does need is a little wipe down in the edit suite, a slight rethink on the amount of time given to the baddies (not enough) and a few changes of music choice (whimsical). Those cavils aside, an interesting, fascinating film.

The Dark Valley – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Heist (Lionsgate, cert 15)

Heist isn’t a very good film but it does feature a strong performance by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as a casino teller driven to stealing from his boss by his daughter’s life-threatening medical condition, and then compelled to take a busful of people hostage when the heist goes wrong. “Starring Robert De Niro” it says the box, and De Niro, in a performance that puts a Tony Bennett spin on his usual phoned-in turn, is the casino owner, a smug badass whose cold dead heart is kicked back into a sort of life when he visits his estranged daughter (Kate Bosworth), who now works handing out charity to poor folk, or some such – Bosworth fans (if there are any) should note that she’s only in it for a minute. This film is, in fact, full of people who aren’t painted in anything like enough detail. There’s Gina Carano as the cop on Morgan’s tail, in a nice understated performance, though her character makes no sense at all (she’d have been thrown out of the police for insubordination within the first five minutes of her appearance). There’s Dave Bautista, as Morgan’s psycho sidekick, the ranting yin to Morgan’s much more reasonable yang. There’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Carano’s bent boss. Morris Chestnut as De Niro’s henchman. A pregnant woman on the bus. Morgan’s sick daughter. The driver of the bus, for god’s sake, all given more time than seems necessary, not enough time to become properly established. However, I’ll recommend it for Morgan, who on the strength of his amiable and humane performance as a man pushed to desperate acts should really be hoovering up some of George Clooney’s roles.

Heist – Watch it/buy it from Amazon

Hitman: Agent 47 (Fox, cert 15)

Timothy Olyphant is out and Rupert Friend is in, as the automaton hitman with a barcode on his bald pate, in the uncalled-for sequel which also sees Hannah Ware deputising for Olga Kurylenko as the femme fatale. Neither does as well as the originals, but the film keeps the sub-Bourne nerviness of the original going. Cutting straight to the chase, as this game-derived chase actioner prides itself on doing, this must be the best made properly terrible film of the year. It consists of scene after scene of stuff we’ve seen before. Like that one where Agent 47 (Friend) is alone in a locked interrogation cell with his adversary – who has him handcuffed and incapacitated, and has a couple of armed goons as backup – and we just know Agent 47 is going to kill everyone in the room, somehow. Add to that the weird acting – Zachary Quinto unconvincing as a tough guy, Ciaran Hinds doing god knows what as the creator of the Hitman program, Friend overacting, badly directed, then enter Thomas Kretschmann in what looks like a Bond villain audition. His name is LeClerq – FFS. Ware has an attractive face and you can see her nipples through her shirt. And if you’re wondering why this isn’t so much a review as a series of unconnected sentences, that’s what the whole film is like – glam locations, beautiful people, impossible situations, fabulous cars, prominent product placement, as if a number of perfume, couture, car and weapons advertisements had been cut and shut together. By the end I was wondering if it was deliberate and I’d missed something, whether the whole thing weren’t an exercise in extravagant camp. I’m still not sure.

Hitman: Agent 47 – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2015

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