Out in the UK This Week
Only God Forgives (Lionsgate, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
After Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive (not to mention the Pusher trilogy) director Nicolas Winding Refn’s cool yet feverish look at violence and masculinity continues with a story set out in the badlands of Bangkok, where moody Ryan Gosling plays Julian, the brother expected to avenge the death of his intensely violent older brother Billy (Tom Burke). But the slightly more sensitive Julian balks, which brings into play his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a tough old bitch as elemental as any out of Greek tragedy. It also brings into play a retired cop (Vithaya Pansingram), an automaton of remorseless brutality. Together and separately, all three waltz towards a bloody finale. Neon-lit, tricked out with gliding cameras, and with the odd pause for a song, Only God Forgives wears its debt to David Lynch on its sleeve. But both Gaspar Noë and Alejandro Jodorowsky (also mentioned in the credits) are spiritually in the mix, Noë’s Into the Void informing the lurid cityscapes, Jodorowsky inspiring the alienated psychedelics. There’s Peter Greenaway too, in the symmetrical composition, and Scorsese – in fact it’s like Goodfellas at quarter speed. It’s for cinephiles, in other words, and lovers of the lush, intense, taciturn and grisly. A gorgeous, ugly film.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Steve Coogan’s most famous creation gets a movie of his own, in which North Norfolk Digital’s mid-morning jock is called upon to do some siege negotiation after a fellow DJ (Colm Meaney) goes gun-crazy. That’s the plot, but what about the jokes? Well, the good news is that they are in there – Coogan’s ability to nail the prattle that comes from the mouths of people paid to produce hot air is second to none. And with lines like “Can a binman expect a Christmas tip when he’s point blank refused to take away a broken toaster?” Coogan clearly has the writers on board too. But the film suffers from the same problem as the DJ himself – stretch it beyond its natural life (the link between records in the DJ’s case) and it starts to gasp a bit.
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Independent, cert 18, DVD)
The three girls who have been sentenced to two years in a Russian gulag for making a noise in a Moscow church are the subjects of this remarkably even-handed documentary. We learn the back stories of Nadia (the hot one – sorry), Maria and Ekaterina, whose balaclava-clad performance in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour got them arrested and, eventually sentenced. How they’re politically against Vladimir Putin, who they see as a dictator. How they were objecting to the closeness of Church and State, hence the cathedral protest. How Russian public opinion clearly isn’t on their side – “they walked into Russia and took a shit” – says one scarf-wearing woman at a rally against them. Feelings run high not least because the church the Pussy Rioters performed in has only just been rebuilt after being dynamited by Stalin in the 1930s, because the Church is clearly not aligned with the state as far as the older generation is concerned. It’s a fascinating film, as much a portrait of brave young women who got more than they bargained for as it is of Russia being dragged backwards into the modern world.
Man of Steel (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Having enjoyed the Brandon Routh Superman reboot of 2006 – most people did not – I was expecting not to enjoy this one, since most people did. I didn’t enjoy it. Telling the story of Superman’s origin, his journey from planet Krypton to planet Earth, his dad, his adoptive parents, his transformation into the Man of Steel, it follows in most respects the Christopher Reeve film from 1978. One major deviation from the original being that Clark Kent isn’t working for the Daily Planet yet, and Lois Lane already knows he’s Superman. The reason why this huge change has been made to the story becomes clear around halfway through Man of Steel. It’s because this is not a stand-alone film at all; it’s a warm-up for 2015’s Batman vs Superman, which will deal with the Daily Planet/Lois/Metropolis years in full. Talk about a shitty way to make movies. Talking of which, Zack Snyder is director, bringing the same blind spot for spatial geography and failure to punch a story along that he demonstrated on 300. These monster caveats aside, Cavill doesn’t let the team down as Superman, Russell Crowe is convincingly authoritative and benign as Jor-El and the special effects are of the awesome variety. I noticed Christopher “string it out” Nolan’s name had a story credit. Figures.
Planes (Disney, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)
I’d heard bad things about Planes – that it’s a Disney attempt at a Pixar property, Cars with Wings. Which is exactly what it is. Anthropomorphic airplanes having adventures and stuff, with the focus falling on Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a cropduster from nowheresville who follows his dream to become a racer etc etc. It is true that the animation is not Pixar standard. In fact it looks like a Pixar film that hasn’t been through the final hi-def treatment. But that apart, Planes is zippy, there are some interesting sequences – Dusty falling into the sea was unusually realistic – a fair bit of technical detail (drag, ailerons, power/weight ratios) which might intrigue the young techie. And it deals with war and death in unexpected ways too. Reset your expectations, think very young and this is a rather good film.
Looking for Hortense (Arrow, cert 12, DVD)
This stagey, overstuffed French comedy of urban bourgeois manners has a farce structure – people doing improbable things at an increasingly hectic pace – and is kicked off by a wife (Kristin Scott Thomas again) asking her husband to ask his dad, a judge, to fast-track the papers of a Serbian woman working for a friend. I think that was the drift. Jean-Pierre Bacri is the guy asking his dad, but here’s the thing – Bacri is clearly a man in his 60s, so how old is the father meant to be? Why is he still working? Are we watching a farce about ageing government functionaries, or is this simply a case of miscasting, Bacri being a generation too old? It might seem like a hiccup but I couldn’t find much else in the film to latch on to – the Serbian character is underdeveloped, a 40something dressed like a teenager (so it could be about age), the patrician old functionary who has a conversation with his son in which he reveals that he has sex with men, but isn’t homosexual – what is that all about? Looking for Hortense is full of great performers, and is the sort of drama in which each individual scene is beautifully constructed and played, but what it was all “about” is eluded me. Over to you.
The Lone Ranger (Disney, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
With Pirates of the Caribbean, Gore Verbinski took the pirate swashbuckler, and knowing that no one would swallow it without a mixer, served it as a comedy. In came Johnny Depp as the comedy sidekick to Orlando Bloom’s vaguely Errol Flynn-like man of swagger. The Lone Ranger attempts the same move, taking the western, playing it for laughs and bringing in Johnny Depp as comedy sidekick to Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger. For a good hour or so this looks like it’s going to go somewhere, Verbinski bringing a bit of that fizzy Rango wildness to a meta-western that has Morricone/Leone twangy guitar, John Ford locations, a baddie called Butch Cavendish (not that far off Cassidy), a guy who looks like General Custer, Helena Bonham Carter as an everywhore with parasol. And very good all this is too. But there are a host of tiny mis-steps – some of them fatal – that really undermine the film. Why have it all as a flashback? Why take William Fichtner, one of the very best bad guys in Hollywood, and then disguise those lean, frightening features? Why doesn’t Verbinski get in someone who understands CGI special effects, since he clearly doesn’t? And why hasn’t Johnny Depp decided what type of act he’s aiming at – is it olde style comedy injun (white man speak with fork tongue)? Or is it more your Joss Whedon “Whatever” Indian? He wobbles between the two. And the film is an hour too long. File next to Wild Wild West.
The Lone Ranger – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013