8 August 2016-08-08

Out This Week

These Final Hours (The Works, cert 18)

A “last day of the world” film like we used to get around the turn of the millennium. It’s made on the cheap but with lots of skill and attitude, the attitude being largely borrowed from Mad Max. Actually, it’s about three genres in one and they successfully fold together as we follow James (Nathan Phillips of Wolf Creek) who is on a coming-of-age road trip on the very last day of the world’s existence. The question the film poses, and James asks of himself eventually when he’s got his priorities straight, is: am I going to be an asshole right to the end? Trying to pick the meat of this from the bones of a plot that makes a good fist of keeping us off balance – Who’s this girl Zoe who James is shagging early on, if not his girlfriend? If Zoe is his girlfriend, why is he leaving her and heading off to a grungy party somewhere else? If Vicky, the girl there, is in fact his real girlfriend, why’s he having flashbacks to Zoe? Who’s the little girl at the party James decides to take under his wing, and why so protective all of a sudden – the world’s about to end, isn’t it? All is eventually revealed, and satisfyingly, to a soundtrack of party-animal music, to drugs that “take the edge off, mate” – taking the edge off being one of the things the film ponders – while a very up-close camera and some clever work in the edit suite makes very much of very little. Although essentially focused on Phillips, Jessica De Gouw as Zoe, Kathryn Beck as Vicky and Angourie Rice as the little mite Rose, Zak Hilditch’s film is more of an ensemble piece than at first seems the case, and it’s noticeable how often a little look from a character at the fringe of a scene either confirms or disturbs the mood. The only real question to be asked about this excellent bijou thriller is – how come it’s taken three years to get a home-ent release in the UK?

These Final Hours – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Eddie the Eagle (Lionsgate, cert PG)

Two things are going on in this knockabout biopic about Eddie the Eagle, the useless British skijumper who won people’s hearts at the 1988 Olympics, much as the Jamaican bobsleigh team did at the same Games (and immortalised in the film Cool Runnings). The first is the resurrection of a familiar British comedy type. George Formby and Norman Wisdom are both early iterations of Eddie: the good-natured gump whose pluck, decency and vim – and other qualities exemplified by other old-fashioned words – trump the current top attributes of brawn, hotness, smarts and cool. The other is that director Dexter Fletcher has decided to use the film as a Hollywood calling card. Don’t expect edge, in other words. Those two boulder-sized caveats to one side, this is a very standard “triumph of the nerd” following the serially challenged Eddie Edwards from childhood to manhood – though puberty doesn’t seem to have overly intruded – his burning urge to be an Olympian never once dimming as he tries a succession of sports, landing on ski-jumping because here, in the UK at least, there is literally no competition. And I mean not a single person. Taron Egerton plays Eddie, proving he’s better than he appeared to be in the woeful Kingsman, though it’s essentially the same role, the same film – gimp makes good. And it’s in the actors where this film’s heart, and any claims to averageness, lie. Hugh Jackman, even playing the boozy former-somebody loser who reluctantly agrees to be Edwards’s coach, is about as potent a raw infusion of star quality as any film could hope for, and there’s nice homegrown Coronation Street-style to-and-fro between Kevin Allen and Jo Hartley as Eddie’s entirely divided parents. She’s all for the “follow your dream” stuff; he’s more “What? Even if you’re shit?” Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Deacon Blue, Hall and Oates are on the soundtrack, the naff end of 1980s music being about right, and Christopher Walken gets a walk-on so brief he hasn’t got time even for a shuffle or to pull a watch out of his back passage. Though director Fletcher does give us a sense of the sheer awesomeness of skijumping, this is in almost every respect a very prosaic, a very earthbound film.

Eddie the Eagle – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Tale of Tales (Curzon, cert 15)

Like something from the 1960s, a compendium of 17th-century fairytales by Giambattista Basile firmly in the European tradition– dark, disturbed and not necessarily all “happy ever after” – with the likes of Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones and John C Reilly to help international buyers take an interest. Pasolini and Fellini are invoked immediately in the opening sequence as we follow a troupe of jugglers into the first story, about a king (Reilly) and his barren wife (Hayek) who manage to make a baby by some magical jiggery-pokery involving a virgin, a sea monster and the eating of its heart. Cut to Jones as a king of a different kingdom, and his neglectful relationship with his own daughter, his majesty preferring instead the company of a pet flea, who grows large and fat on his indulgence. Cut to another King (Cassel), a debaucher who falls for the singing voice of an old crone (Hayley Carmichael) believing her to be a soft-skinned virgin, which she eventually, magically becomes. Lust, envy, covetousness, selfishness, trickery, ugliness – it’s hardly Disney, unless you’re talking about Snow White and Pinocchio. The tales work towards finger-wagging conclusions and punishment is meted out according to the crime in a world whose nearest reference point would be the 1960s East German TV series The Singing Ringing Tree if it weren’t for director Matteo Garrone’s stunning locations, all in Italy, apparently, though heavy with the dust and monumentalism of North Africa (Pasolini again). The stories do not hang together, nor do they pretend to, and there are some genuinely ugly moments of gore, such as when the sister (Shirley Henderson) of the rejuvenated woman (Nymphomania’s Stacy Martin) has the skin flayed from her body hoping it will make her young too. It’s not edge-of-seat stuff, though never less than fascinating, not least because we’re watching a genre long presumed dead live again.

Tale of Tales – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Holding the Man (Peccadillo, cert 15)

Neil Armfield’s last feature film was 2006’s Candy, which put us inside the druggy relationship between Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish. Holding the Man is a better, more subtle film, if less full of fireworks, and tells the story of a couple of guys who meet at school, become lovers and – it being the 1970s when it all kicks off – eventually meet the Grim Reaper in the shape of Aids. We’ll gloss over the fact that both Ryan Corr (flamboyant Tim) and Craig Scott (quieter, more masculine John) are too old to be playing teens, because the main bulk of the film takes place later on. It’s a tale not just of an enduring relationship but of changing times, and of the relationship within those changing times – the basic plot of the romantic war movie (a searing relationship set against a turbulent backdrop etc etc) – and dropping in an out of the picture are a host of famous Aussie faces showing faith with Armfield. Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox are Tim’s parents, horrified but accepting of their son’s “persuasion”. Anthony LaPaglia is John’s angry, never accepting dad, Geoffrey Rush blurs on – as he did in Candy – to steal a scene as Tim’s drama teacher, suggesting in the smallest of speeches and a turning on and off of gay tics that a man can comport himself as a slab of beef if the situation so demands, even if he is in fact a bag of mince. Romantic early sex (done in suggestion rather than full-frontal show-and-tell) gives way to bathhouse debauchery, the 1970s become the 80s and eventually the 1990s and though the arc is familiar, the nuance is not. Armfield (working off Tim Conigrave’s memoir) pointing out that, yes, Australia is militantly heterosexist, but not uniformly so. In fact, where we least expect it, at the Jesuit school where Tim and John first hook up, there is a rough, bantering acceptance of Tim’s entirely open sexuality. We’ve all been to school. We all know this does happen. Being gay isn’t the crime here, it’s being a pansy. Very Aussie.

Holding the Man – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Brand New Testament (Metrodome, cert 15)

God resides in Brussels in this smart Belgian farce always balancing on whimsy’s rim and actually focusing on His daughter – who escapes to Earth to set about gathering disciples about her, much as her brother Jesus did. Once she’s escaped the drab bedsitter conformity of Paradise, off Ea (Pili Groyne) goes on a road movie of sorts, collecting her followers, having first told everyone on Earth the exact date of their death, nice touch. Don’t worry, the God angle is a feint and the film is really a gentle instructive on living lives to the full – as we meet each of Ea’s chosen six (12 is too unwieldy, Jesus has told his sister), they’re all people coming to terms with some obstruction, often self-imposed. Aurélie (Laura Verlinden) is a hot babe with a false arm and low self-esteem, Jean-Claude (Didier De Neck) has spent his entire life in a boring job, Marc (Serfe Larivière) is sex-obsessed, François (François Damiens) is death obsessed, Martine (Catherine Deneuve) is so depressed she doesn’t know what to do, Willy (Romain Gelin) has been progressively poisoned by his parents and now in his own end of days he’s decided he wants to become a girl. A fairly representative bunch, then. Deneuve’s name stands out, of course, and is worth an extra mention because she gets a scene in bed with a gorilla. And there’s surely a constituency for that. But you come to this film because, once its got its shaky opening scenes out of the way, it keeps delivering twists of a life-affirming sort. It’s bitty but they’re good bits, kitsch but not lazy kitsch and it has a refreshing take on God (Benoît Poelvoorde), who visits tribulations on humanity not because he’s a vengeful deity, it’s more because he’s just a bit bored and, like many a middle-aged man, has gone a bit sour. Yolande Moreau – of course it’s her – plays God’s wife (I don’t remember God having a wife in the Bible, but nor did he get stuck inside a laundromat washing machine), and there’s a lot of sousaphone-style comedy music recalling charmless 1970s films. Yes, it does all sound dreadful, doesn’t it, but trust me it’s not. Vaguely a visual take on the Eric Bazilian song made famous by Joan Osborne What If God Was One of Us (you know – “Just a slob like one of us”), it knows what whimsy is and it rushes towards it, headlong, puppy style and shakes it nearly to death.

The Brand New Testament – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Hard Stop (Metrodome, cert 18)

A “hard stop” happens when the police hit you with a guns-cocked-no-discussion arrest. They performed one of these on Mark Duggan in Tottenham in 2011. In the fray, Duggan was killed, the media duly reporting that he’d fired a gun at police. This turned out not to be true, though a firearm was found some feet away from his body. Riots broke out in Tottenham and erupted elsewhere in the country. £200 million of damage was caused in London alone. That’s the background to this documentary following two guys heavily involved in the riots – Marcus Knox Howe and Kurtis Henville. In fact as we meet Marcus he’s waiting to see what sentence he’s going to get for his involvement. Somewhere round here I wrote in my notes “a portrait of two guys, as a way of explaining the riots? Really?” And this is exactly what George Amponsah’s documentary is, for good and ill. Marcus is the more eloquent of the two, filling us in on details about local grievances, that the police are anti-black essentially, and have been on vengeance jag ever since the death of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985 – exactly the same area. It was then and is now “an oppressive racist police force,” as one activist describes it, before going on to opine that “… we gave them a bloody good hiding.” Kurtis, meanwhile, is the under-educated, over-cocky black man of stereotype, trying to get a job and getting knocked back, trying to hold a family together, but finding that having to work so far from home in the job he eventually does get adds an extra burden most of us wouldn’t tolerate. It’s a portrait, not so much of the Duggan case and the riots, but of the dry tinder that needs only a spark to ignite – under-educated people with low expectations, finding drug dealing one of the few lucrative opportunities on offer, and then bridling when even that is taken from them. In its equation of crime with lack of opportunity, there are remarkable similarities with the recent US doc on life on an American Indian reservation, Seventh Fire. And like Seventh Fire, it’s not a breezy ride. Would you want to live on Broadwater Farm? I wouldn’t, and I live in an area once dubbed the Murder Mile.

The Hard Stop – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Southbound (StudioCanal, cert 18)

V/H/S, Phobia, the ABCs of Death – the compendium horror movie walks among us again, as it did in the 1960s. But there is more of a point to it in the age of home-consumed entertainment, when the break between each tale allows pizza to be hoisted to face and the bong to be relit. This Carpenter/Corman-inflected anthology makes a token attempt to link all four tales together, and starts with a pair of guys out in the desert being menaced by hovering creatures yet seemingly incapable of escaping the flyblown town they’re in. This leads into tale the second, about a VW camper (how 1970s) of girls who break down, are picked up by a nice couple, who are too nice by half, of course. And, after a lot of Tupperware set design, the action shifts to a deserted hospital where things get genuinely unpleasant and the pizza probably sits hovering in mid-air for a few minutes. Hold that skunk! And then we’re into another story set in a bar and loosely modelled on From Dusk Till Dawn, before we’re into a home-invasion horror finale that lifts the magician’s hat to reveal – ta daa – a link to the first story. Southbound has the good sense to keep moving, understands the importance of production design, and that John Carpenter’s synth noodles were an inspired way to soundtrack a horror movie. The film’s unifying theme appears to be people who never quite appreciate just how fucked they are – we can all buy into that, right? – and if there’s a slight variation in quality (in other words the hospital bit is so scary it throws the rest into the shade) that is something you might well be thankful for.

Southbound – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© 2016 Steve Morrissey

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