Out in the UK this week
Fast & Furious 6 (Universal, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Having started as a “hot cars, even hotter girls” kind of affair, the F&F franchise is morphing as it goes into something more like an Oceans 11 heist series, with Vin Diesel and the still-pointless Paul Walker increasingly being called on to do jobs that are only tangentially related to driving in increasingly exotic parts of the world. Dwayne Johnson is back in F&F6, and it’s a welcome return (unless your name is Paul Walker, I imagine) to share badassery and bromantic backchat between action sequences expertly handled by director Justin Lin, who has become a master of the wow sequence. There’s one towards the end of F&F that will make you applaud, and then Lin follows that up with another one, cars charging down an airport runway, which is even better. As for the girls, they don’t really have that much to do, though Gina Carano (another new arrival) is impressive doing her mixed martial arts, while Gal Gadot handles the babelicious stuff that Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez used to do. It’s an unexpectedly great action movie, Justin Lin’s last, apparently. He hands over to Saw’s James Wan for Fast 7, the big villain of which is teased over the end credits to Fast 6. Will it be as good? Can it be?
Devoured (Matchbox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Greg Olliver was the director of the Lemmy documentary, called Lemmy. And he’s now just embarking on a Johnny Winter documentary, called Johnny Winter. Keeping in sync with the self-explanatory vibe of those two is this feature film Olliver sandwiched between, about a restaurant worker who is being eaten by her demons, driven crazy by the demands of her work, and by the fact that she’s an immigrant who has left her young child back in El Salvador. The Spanish Marta Milans plays Lourdes in this beautifully composed psychological horror film that seems as fixated on its lead’s breasts as are the male customers who frequent the restaurant – or perhaps Olliver’s camera is trying to tell us something rather than just dive down Marta’s top. Give this film a chance, it’s like a dish that hasn’t quite come together but the flavours are all there – and by the time it starts moving towards its grisly denouement, you will probably be wondering what Olliver will do after he’s finished with the rock legend Mr Winter.
The Punk Syndrome (November Films, cert 15, DVD)
The question with any documentary following mentally challenged people is: to what extent are we pointing and laughing? The answer is “not very much” in this Finnish film about a bunch of guys – Pertti, Toni Kari, Sami – whose otherwise miserable lives in a care home have been transformed by the fact that they’ve formed a punk band. And it’s become quite successful. Yes, there is some weird behaviour in here – Pertti, whose band it nominally is – has a weird obsession with the seams in clothes, and likes to rub them against his face. And just before going on stage one band member admonishes another – “You can’t go on stage with shit in your pants.” But for the most part it’s a remarkably honest look at life on the road, the fights, the flounces, the boredom and (you never see this in standard-issue rock-docs) the sheer excitement of going to new places. And shadowing it all is the spectre of life back in the home. “I don’t want to live in a group home” runs the lyric to one of the band’s songs. Watching The Punk Syndrome, you can understand why.
Plein Soleil (StudioCanal, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Going under the name of Purple Noon in some regions (the line is from Shelley’s Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples), this restoration of René Clément’s 1960 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley is obviously going to invite comparison with Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film. It’s probably not a popular choice, but I reckon Minghella’s is the better film, the more psychologically astute. But Clément does some interesting things with the story, most notably coming in very late to proceedings, at which point guttersnipe Tom Ripley is already firm friends with rich kid Philippe (as he’s known here) Greenleaf. Clément also takes plenty of time painting Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) as a man riding for a fall – a bit of a twat, a cheat, a member of the super-entitled playboy class who flopped around the Mediterranean in the golden years of the late 50s and early 60s, before tabloid newspapers and long lenses turned up. In fact Clément is particularly good on this last point, and is abetted by cinematographer Henri Decaë, who presents us with the Med in all its glory, sun-drenched, undiscovered, its beautiful ports looking almost like they must have done in medieval times (a note: I am not entirely convinced by the restoration, but the slightly bluey blacks and tendency for everything to look just a touch pastel – Eastmancolour was a bugger for fading – lends these scenes extra foxed antiquity). Gilding this quasi-travelogue is Alain Delon as the Greenleaf wannabe and killer Ripley, James Dean-handsome in the role that established him (and from whose pretty-boy shadow he never quite escaped). You can’t fault Clément’s pace – he rips through the plot, and folds scene-setting, character and motivation expertly together with an economy and style that got him dubbed “the French Hitchcock”. The culmination of this – the locations, the actors, the economical direction and the superb cinematography – is the scene on the gorgeous wooden yacht where Ripley kills Greenleaf and disposes of the body (before attempting to set out on a new life with his victim’s identity), an extended bit of breathless bravura direction that brings everything together perfectly. If it’s not as good as Minghella’s film taken as a whole, in parts Plein Soleil is way, way beyond it.
Our Idiot Brother (EV, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
The men are all dicks and the women are all brittle in this ensemble comedy that has Paul Rudd sitting between the two groups, playing a beaming, hippie-ish holy fool with Paul McCartney (circa 1968) hair and beard whose innocent approach to life only causes mayhem. We meet Ned on his organic veg market stall just as he’s selling marijuana to a uniformed policeman. And it soon becomes clear, once Ned has done some years for the crime, that he’s meant to be some modern update of Chauncey Gardner. The 1979 Peter Sellers film Being There is the inspiration for this entertaining comedy about the havoc that this idiot wreaks as he blows through the lives of his family. It’s a film full of great little turns – Emily Mortimer as a frump, Elizabeth Banks as a shrew and Zooey Deschanel as Zooey Deschanel (hey). While on the male side there’s Steve Coogan as an asshole, Hugh Dancy as a cock and Adam Scott as a tool. And knowing that total redemption would be unlikely, and gag-inducing, especially when Rudd’s character so obviously could not cope successfully with some of the curves that life throws, Our Idiot Brother just makes the case that if only we, you know, just were a little more open, a little more honest, a bit less self-absorbed, life might actually be a lot more worth living.
Epic (Fox, cert U, DigitalHD)
Not caring particularly who does the voices in an animation as long as the thing itself is good – who did the voices for 101 Dalmatians, for example? – I wasn’t particularly bothered that Beyoncé, Amanda Seyfried and Colin Farrell’s were among are the names studding the cast list of this animated fantasy. And they are truly neither here nor there in the latest animation from Chris Wedge, who directed the Ice Age films. The over-complicated story concerns the queen of some tiny forest folk and a pod that she passes on to a feisty human girl, and that girl’s adventures with the pod, except now she’s become small, and dark forces are after this pod thing and… to be honest I just stopped caring. Epic is punishingly cute, cloaking a story set among the wee folk who live in the woods with the sort of ramblings of a deluded eco-nut who thinks that the “dark stuff” (fungus, mould, rot) is bad and that the green stuff is good. Perhaps I shouldn’t have got hung up on this point, but it was somewhere around here that I also started noticing that Epic – the midget focus of Antz, the “they shall not pass” intent of Lord of the Rings – is actually more interested in how the hair of its main characters is animated than in the expressions on their faces. That can’t be right. Celebrity voices, duff ecology, stupid animation, an unnecessarily complicated story – it’s not a great start. There is good stuff in here, but it’s limited to tiny moments with side characters – the three-legged dog is a beautifully observed comic character (as Scrat the squirrel was in Ice Age), and Wedge has made some interesting choices about the look of various characters, which have echoes of the Edwardian storybook about them. But otherwise this is too cute, too drippy, confused and downright dull.
© Steve Morrissey 2013