Out in the UK This Week
Silent Souls (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)
Two men from an almost extinct Russian ethnic sub-group, the Merja, take the dead wife of one of them to her final rest in this poetic, poignant drama which works brilliantly as character study and as a meditation on the notion of national identity. After the rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway in July 2011, and in a world of multicultural cross-fertilisation, the positive case for ethnic separateness or uniqueness is rarely made without it sounding like the spit-flecked rantings of ultra-conservatives, die-hards or Nazis. Yet director Aleksei Fedorchenko has done it. That his film is mystical, full of half-remembered ritual and possibly imagined histories shows, perhaps, that Fedorchenko and his writers (Denis Osokin, Aist Sergeyev) understand they’re stepping out onto a cultural minefield. Either way, this approach allows them to sneak a rather unexpected sub-plot under the radar, one which builds beautifully and solidifies to give this film’s second half more lean-forward appeal than the first half might prepare you for.
The Arrival of Wang (Peccadillo, cert 15, DVD)
There’s really almost nothing I can say about this Italian film without entering spoiler territory. It is a raggy but highly ingenious drama about an interpreter called in by the government to do some translating out of Chinese into Italian for an alien who’s just landed on planet Earth. And that’s about as far as I can go. Suffice to say it’s a sci-fi that plays with the notion of the good alien/bad human, there is no way that Hollywood can remake it in its present form and it is terribly amateur in many respects, yet the concept is so strong it doesn’t matter. Highly recommended, it’s reviewed at greater length here.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (ITV, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)
This is aimed at those who haven’t seen Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s masterpiece. If you have you’ll already know why it’s on all the “best British film” lists. Telling the story of Clive Wynne-Candy, a professional army man, from youthful campaigns in the Boer War to his being put out to pasture with the territorial reserve in the Second World War, it is the portrait of the making of a man and of a country. Beautifully shot in the most vivid Technicolor, and with a subplot about Wynne-Candy’s lifelong friendship with a German (Churchill was apparently less than happy about that bit), it co-stars Deborah Kerr as the three different women in the military man’s life. Funny, moving, informative and wistfully nostalgic, it’s probably the most finely nuanced propaganda film ever made.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
From the writer of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a similar joke, steampunk vampires versus a US president who knows how to swing an axe – political metaphor entirely accidental. Timur Bekmambetov, the director of vampire classic Night Watch who’s never quite fulfilled his potential in Hollywood, is in charge but hasn’t been given the monster budget that his mad, audacious ideas require. That’s not to say there aren’t enjoyable moments in a film that actually looks at times more like a gay love story (between leads Benjamin Walker and Anthony Mackie), and threatens at almost every turn to morph from high concept zombie movie to low concept history dirge. Here comes the big “however”. None of that matters, because in the finale, Bekmambetov pulls off a special effects sequence so brilliantly orchestrated, so dazzlingly cheeky, that you almost forget that he’s been used pretty much as a gun for hire in the rest of the film. Now if they’d only get him to remake Wild Wild West.
Chernobyl Diaries (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A kids-in-the-woods horror with a “who croaks next?” structure. Plus radiation. The plot coalesces around a gaggle of daring tourists who go off the trail with a visit – organised from the shop doorways of wherever – to Chernobyl. What they find in there is the product of the mind of Oren Peli, of Paranormal Activity, who was clearly watching the Australian film The Tunnel before he sat down to write. No problem with that. The Tunnel has enough flavour to go around.
Red Lights (Momentum, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Here is a potentially great film about two professional sceptics (Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy) who go around exposing spiritualists as hustlers. Yes, Weaver as a woman who busts ghostbusters is a bit of stunt casting. But she’s also the best thing in the film, or her bracing scepticism is at any rate, along with the moody direction of Rodrigo Cortés, who delivers plenty of Spanish haunted-house atmosphere. Then, at the halfway mark, the duo enter the orbit of spiritualist Robert De Niro – is he the real thing or not? – and this enjoyably promising film dives away from the world of the rational and into the world of Hollywood nonsense, where clever people stop asking questions and turn their bullshit detectors off. And it falls right off the rails. Still, Robert De Niro as a charismatic and possibly murderous mentalist might tick your boxes, though the cast is uniformly excellent (Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson) and they carry on being excellent even after the film has crossed over to the other side.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Lionsgate, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
There are decent roles for women – though they’re all on the toxic spectrum – in this girlcom about pregnancy that’s more expectation than delivery. J-Lo plays the anxious adopter of an overseas orphan. Cameron Diaz is the TV celeb unexpectedly up the duff by her Celebrity Dance Factor co-star. Elizabeth Banks is the neurotic desperately watching the ovulation calendar. Anna Kendrick is the nice girl pregnant after a one-night stand. It’s a committee-written comedy grown hydroponically in a studio tank and fed on misogyny, and it’s honestly difficult to find anyone admirable in here at all. The only half OK female character – the tough, good-looking, upbeat, nice, not-a-victim Brooklyn Decker – is treated as something of a joke.
© Steve Morrissey 2012