Out in the UK This Week
This Is the End (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Armageddon, aka The Rapture, arrives at a big Hollywood party thrown by James Franco in an in-jokey comedy whose USP is that everyone involved plays a version of themselves. The big names are Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and James Franco (natch), with Jay Baruchel as our entry point, playing the sort of Jay Baruchel who is slightly intimidated by the bigger stars. Cameos are the big thing there – Rihanna pops in for a minute, Michael Cera has fun with his image as a total dude being fellated and rimmed simultaneously by a pair of babes while doing a monster line of coke. But that’s the party bit, the fun bit. Once the actual end of the world arrives things cool down a bit, the joke starts to wear thin and we start looking around for actual comedy, rather than in-jokes. There is some, thanks to Danny McBride and Craig Robinson (probably the best thing on display) providing most of it. I forgot to mention that Emma Watson does a similar thing to Cera, playing off her good girl Harry Potter image. So, yes, it’s a Wayans brothers movie, more or less, give or take.
Camp 14: Total Control Zone (Kaleidoscope, cert 15, DVD)
There really isn’t much to see in this documentary, and its makers know it, hence the animated inserts they use to liven up the tale told by Shin Dong-Hyuk, a North Korean who had the misfortune to be born and raised in a labour camp, until he made a break for it. Not that the story itself needs titivating – it is a jaw-to-the-floor tale of deprivation, unusual and cruel punishment, plus a devotion to a wonky ideology that saw, for example, Shin shopping his mother and brother to the camp authorities for talking about escape. What happened to them I won’t detail here, because it forms the centrepiece of a story of quite remarkable unpleasantness. Intercut with Shin’s story is the testimony of two former functionaries, one an administrative official, the other a guard who delighted in hurting people – “Why did I behave that way? I was 21, 22, I had stars on my shoulders… and a gun… if I didn’t like someone I just shot them.” Like I say, jaw-to-the-floor stuff.
The Night of the Hunter (Arrow, cert 12, Blu-ray)
Here’s the blu-ray debut of the only film ever directed by Charles Laughton. The only film not just because Laughton was a terrible drunk but because it was a terrible flop and Laughton was broken by the reception it got. Critics seem to have trouble placing Night of the Hunter but in genre terms it is not unadjacent to Southern Gothic – men of questionable sexuality, women taut with unsatisfied urges, innocent children and Christianity seen from the dark side. Telling the story of two children who know the whereabouts of their dead father’s ill-gotten loot, it hands Robert Mitchum one of the roles of his career, as the preacher with Love and Hate tattooed onto the fingers of each hand, an ex-jailbird determined to wring the location of the money from the children he has now become stepfather to. Onto this basic story Laughton and writer James Agee (though how much of his script is in the finished work is hotly disputed) tack all manner of folksy Mark Twain-esque touches, dreamy expressionism, and the famous nightmare slo-motion chase along the riverbank that’s once seen but never forgotten. This is a film with standout shots (thanks to Stanley Cortez, who worked with Orson Welles) memorable dialogue, instances of remarkable acting (Shelley Winters vibrating with lust) but it sticks in the memory most because of the off-key tone it sets, the mood it creates. It is a classic.
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (StudioCanal, cert 12, DVD)
Haewon (Jeong Eun-Chae), the girl at the centre of this odd offbeat drama is somebody’s daughter. In fact we meet her mother early on, just after we’ve witnessed Haewon bumping into Jane Birkin on the street, in a cameo that must rank as one cinema’s more unusual, because it’s so pointless. Though is it? Because we’re then treated to a story about a beautiful girl being handed life on a plate and still not being that happy about everything – the wannabe actress/model Haewon is having an affair with a teacher/director, though he’s not easy about declaring their relationship publicly. No matter, Haewon is beautiful, and has soon found another suitor, a Korean now installed as a professor at an American university. Composed largely of Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight walkie talkie shots, with various South Korean landmarks acting as backdrop, this is an intensely verbal film yet features one extended sequence of protracted social embarrassment in a cheap eatery that makes the film worth hunting out. As for the rest of it, it’s certainly an unusual theme, but I’m not convinced the film has that much to say about it.
Pinocchio (Koch, cert U, DVD)
Does the world need another Pinocchio? Maybe not, but this is an Italian version (revoiced in English) and Pinocchio is an Italian story, so why not. If you’ve seen the Disney Pinocchio, director Enzo D’Alò’s version covers much of the same territory, plus a whole other lot, at breathless speed. So one minute Pinocchio is being carved from a talking lump of wood, the next he’s a rascally marionette, the next he’s meeting a talking cricket, consorting with circus folk, in school, in jail, being bilked by a wolf, with a dog, flying on a pigeon’s back. It’s exhausting, though if you have ADHD you might keep up. And the same goes for the animation, which is really excellent, though it does keep changing styles to match the various changes of plotline – some Disney, some Ghibli, some Expressionism, some Yellow Submarine psychedelia, a bit of Marvel, and on it goes. And I didn’t even mention the songs, which are bouncy and really rather good. Does it form a cohesive whole? No, of course it doesn’t.
Bula Quo! (Universal, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Status Quo have been cranking out their three-chord boogie for longer than most people care, yet this is their first film, made long after their heyday and clearly aware of the fact, hence its many jokes at the expense of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt’s extreme age. So, Quo in Fiji, in a plot that is familiar if you’ve ever seen the terrible Morecambe and Wise film That Riviera Touch (hapless Brits entirely out of their depth away from their country involved with men who are not only dastardly criminals but foreigners). Jon Lovitz plays the baddie killing people for fun at Russian Roulette parties, Craig Fairbrass is the guys’ minder/tour manager, so at least there are two people on hand to do some proper acting, something you could never accuse Parfitt and Rossi of managing. Three if we include Laura Aikman, who is not just pretty but pretty good at playing the new girl hired to… I’m not even that sure. Aikman is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a film that threatens to grind to a halt every ten minutes or so, between scenes of Quo doing their live set, Quo running from bad guys, Quo trading funny quips. “It’s a bomb”, says one, motioning to a ticking timebomb disguised as a doll. “It’s a doll,” says the other, apparently contradictorily. “It’s a blow-up doll,” they say together, scarpering. I laughed. It’s that sort of film.
Weekend of a Champion (Universal, cert PG, DVD)
We’ve had Senna, we’ve had Rush, both big successes. So how about a documentary about Jackie Stewart at the 1971 Grand Prix in Monte Carlo? Shot at the time by Frank Simon, it shows us Stewart driving his mate Roman Polanski around the track, then going on to win the race the next day. For F1 nuts there is probably something to be gleaned from Stewart’s analysis of the track, and what gear he’ll be selecting as he takes this corner or that. And nostaligiacs might get a warm fuzzy glow watching Stewart and his wife walking like royalty down towards the pits in 1971 – the thing about F1 in the 1970s is that it was all very glam, because deadly. Tacked on to the end of the original documentary is a shortish conversation between Stewart and Polanski filmed in Cannes this year. They’re still friends and it’s Polanski who pushes Stewart into talking about how much effort he put into getting F1 to start valuing drivers’ lives. The 60s and 70s were “when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe” is how Stewart says older drivers ruefully describe those days. After that, the two guys drive once again round the track, as they did in 1971, noting the changes the decades have made. And in between the amiable banter and the purr of the engine, you can definitely detect the sound of padding being applied to bulk this enterprise up to its 80 short minutes.
Weekend of a Champion – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013