29 August 2016-08-29

Out This Week

Bad Neighbours 2 (Universal, cert 15)

You thought a sequel wouldn’t yield much? Well, I did. I was wrong.

There are lots of jokes in this follow-up, which has decided that being ballsy is the best way to go – jokes about people throwing up over each other, a physical gag about a girl going through a car window, one about putting Jews in ovens (OK, it’s in speech marks, but it is there). And the twist this time is that Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are now next door not to a frat house, but a sorority (headed by Chloe Grace Moretz) where the girls want to have what the boys were having – sexytime. And as Rogen and Byrne are trying to sell their house, and the prospective buyers won’t be digging deep to live next door to a nightmare, something’s gotta give.

Girls mean tampon jokes, of course. Girls also mean a willing audience for Zac Efron taking his shirt off, which he does in a good-natured “OK, if it’ll save the orphanage” kind of way. Female empowerment, that’s the vague vibe. The women don’t take their shirts off.

Neighbors 2 aka Bad Neighbours 2 – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Golden Years (High Fliers, cert 15, DVD/digital)

Co-written by TV’s Nick Knowles, man of a million DIY projects, Golden Years is a Silver Cinema cash-in wanting some of those Best Exotic Marigold dollars, and stars a roster of familiar grey-haired British thespians in a story about oldsters doing banks jobs because they’ve been bilked out of their savings.

Bernard Hill and Virginia McKenna are the central married couple – he a symphony in beige, she the film’s secret weapon, displaying a knack for comedy you wouldn’t have expected after a lifetime of being associated with Born Free. Una Stubbs, Sue Johnston, Phil Davis, Simon Callow and Alun Armstrong help make it all bearable and, watched with the sort of parochial indulgence normally reserved for an early 1960s Dirk Bogarde film – whose vibe of unlikely hi-jinks and comedy running it appropriates – there is enjoyment to be had.

Warning: there are references to “the other”.

Golden Years: Grand Theft OAP – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Captain America: Civil War (Disney, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Captain America and the other Marvel characters fall out at the beginning of what is amazingly the third outing for Marvel’s most featureless character, leading to a stand-off over whether the Avengers will or will not operate under the aegis of the UN.

It’s Hans Blix and the Iraq War all over again, except this time “Cap” as he is increasingly referred to by all and sundry – nope, still no personality, even with a nickname – finds himself on the side of the guys who don’t want to be corralled, while Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man heads up the other lot.

I could have got that confused, because once the opening yadda yadda is out of the way, this is a relatively straightforward series of increasingly dull fights, with many varied sounds – doyyyyaaaang, dddddrrrrrddr, bbbbrrrringg, swwoooossh-thwaaaackk – to indicate the versatility of Captain America’s shield.

Strangely, though it is featureless, it is not boring, that’s partly thanks to Robert Downey Jr, the de facto star of the film, tip-toeing sotto voce round poor Chris Evans and keeping things just about in balance.

Positives include a teenage Spider-Man (“that is awesome”), more for ScarJo’s Black Widow to do, well tied-together live action and CG, and the Irish accent of Iron Man’s on-board computer (“targeting system’s knackered, boss”). The 1940s smell of crepe and gabardine is overwhelming, though the clever-director Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely understand what dynamics are – one second an Avenger is being thrown from a high-rise building, the next he’s bitching about being stuck in the back of a VW Beetle.

Captain America: Civil War – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

The Pearl Button (New Wave, cert 12, DVD/digital)

The more you already know about Chile, the more you’ll get from Patricio Guzmán’s intensely elegant poetic documentary – which situates the country in the cosmos, then geomorphologically on the planet, before wheeling in to examine prehistory, recent history, especially vis a vis native tribes, then it’s in closer for modern politics – Allende, Pinochet and so on.

Working at the most macro level from space and the most close-up – a single drop of rain – this is an intensely beautifully shot film, passion leaking out at every seam. Of which there are a few.

The transition from the era of the native Indians, whose way of life, static for centuries, was disrupted first by European settlers and then most decisively by Pinochet, is abrupt and, indeed, bogus. And yoking the fate of the poor Indians to a more generalised critique of Pinochet – the rape, the torture, the hidden prisons – while undoubtedly impassioned, yields very little.

The Pearl Button – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Letters from Mother Teresa (Sony, cert PG, DVD/digital)

So you’re Juliet Stevenson and your agent rings up to say he’s got you the gig on a Mother Teresa biopic… You can imagine Juliet hitting the sauvignon blanc before the agent’s even rung off. She’s just, after all, been asked if she wants to play the wrinkliest woman who ever lived.

In fact Stevenson does a great job in an earnest biopic that starts back when India was leaving British rule and Sister Teresa was just setting out on her mission to heal and tend the sick. It’s a film with a budget for historical re-enactment, and with enough left over to hire Rutger Hauer and Max Von Sydow, neither of whom do very much as a couple of priests looking back over the saintly life from a present-day perspective.

Christopher Hitchens and other similar haters are unlikely to love its depiction of a frugal, honest and dedicated life, and though it’s very much the authorised version, it isn’t spam handed, and is sprayed in the kind of sanctity that Cecil B DeMille favoured all those decades ago.

Who was Mother Teresa? Neither the script, director, Hauer and Von Sydow, nor Stevenson know, which makes Stevenson’s poisoned-chalice performance all the more remarkable, the way she’s turned a series of internationally recognised tics into something resembling a character.

Against all expectation, not bad at all.

Letters from Mother Teresa aka The Letters – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

Alleycats (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Kinder souls than I have said nice things about Alleycats, a hilariously bad film about radical and sexy maverick London cyclists getting caught up in political intrigue, in a way that Enid Blyton’s Famous Five might once have done.

Everyone involved realises the Blyton blight is upon it, and so the swearing and sexual references have been dialled up in the mix, in the hope of drowning out the sound of lashings of lemonade and echoes of “wait till daddy hears about this” dialogue.

Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson is at the centre, as the sister of an aggressively antsy cycle courier who, having accidentally witnessed a killing that a member of parliament (John Hannah) was involved in, soon is dead himself.

And off she goes to investigate, calling her commune-dwelling renegade biker mates – scowling when they are not partying – to help.

Many montage sequences later, with a bit of actual plot valiantly trying to hold this bag of bits together, the bad man is led off, cursing under his breath at the pesky kids who brought about his arrest. Or was that Scooby Doo?

Good hairy footage of cyclists streaming across London is its one big plus. No, the idea isn’t a bad one either.

Alleycats – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I Saw the Light (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Who was country singer Hank Williams and why should we watch a film about him?

I Saw the Light never really tells us, and so holes below the waterline a film that sinks as a result. It’s the familiar story – success brings women, booze and drugs, the loss of integrity and downfall (see Ray and I Walk the Line, and Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead for how it should be done).

Tom Hiddleston, god he tries so damn hard to be Hank Williams, but a miss is a good as a mile, and Hiddleston is missing, in every tiny unguarded slip of accent and loss of posture. In fact he’s damned by the opening line of the film, which is a monologue by record-biz guy Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) about Williams being the sort of man who didn’t care if you liked him or not. And now here’s Hiddleston – his puppydog eyes and deprecating tilt of the head saying the exact opposite.

To be fair to Tom, in many ways it’s a fantastic karaoke performance which might be more forgivable if Elizabeth Olsen – as the witch-shrew wife that Williams probably deserved and was probably more sinned against than sinning – didn’t act him off the screen every time she has a chance.

The film, for all its budget, suffers from clean clothes/new car syndrome. And it suffers from a severe lack of bite – a string of failed relationships, boozy incidents and “sonofabitch” encounters is not drama; incident is not story.

How many big-selling records did this man have? How great was his output before he died aged only 30? In case you didn’t know, it was vast, amazing, prodigious… Williams was a true phenomenon, a 24 carat talent. No sign of any of that here. Though Hiddleston can sing, poor thing.

I Saw the Light – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2016

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