Out in the UK This Week
Stoker (Fox, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
Park Chan-Wook – of Oldboy fame – makes his English language debut with a visually, sonically, thematically accomplished film that seems to be trying to get as many varieties of gothic horror assembled in one place as possible. Mia Wasikowska delivers another of inscrutably cool Alice-like performance as a young girl whose lovely daddy has just died mysteriously. And before Daddy’s body is even cold he’s been replaced in the affections of her blowsy mother (Nicole Kidman, looking just a touch Wildensteinian these days) by her uncle (enter, eyes rolling, tongue lolling, Matthew Goode). Park references Night of the Hunter, Shadow of a Doubt, Hamlet, Alice in Wonderland and lots of other fervid dramas in this sexually fraught chiller, which takes scoops of tastiness and then piles on the sprinkles – Tennessee Williams, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, wonky camera, tipsy piano – until the gothic mutates into the cinematic variety of Type 2 diabetes.
Song for Marion (Entertainment One, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Get ready to be manipulated. There is absolutely no doubt what this film (written and directed, surprisingly, by London to Brighton’s Paul Andrew Williams) is about from the very second it starts. But it has a secret weapon in its locker – Terence Stamp. Playing a horrid old curmudgeon whose wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave being lovely) does all the friendly, social stuff, Stamp mutters, cusses and grumps his way through a Calendar Girls-y Britfilm while his on-screen wife gives her all to the seniors choir where the progressive and tragically single choir mistress (Gemma Arterton being lovely) introduces the oldies to “Let’s Talk About Sex” and other supposedly daring offerings (films still not having caught on that oldies these days are from the 1960s – sex is all they ever talk about). Until, that is, the Grim Reaper drags Marion off to the Choir Invisible. This is not a spoiler – as I say, the plot of this film is so obvious you could follow it through cataracts. At this point Williams’s screenplay surely contains an instruction for Williams the director: “vamp for 20 minutes”. So we get some coming and going, unnecessary character development, re-arranging of the chairs, a bit of throat clearing, some tapping of fingers on the table – until it’s time for Stamp to step forward and sing in the big finale. And at that point it’s game over for the tear ducts.
This Is 40 (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
To call Judd Apatow’s latest directorial effort (he’s more often writer/producer) a comedy is possibly something of a category error. Sure, there are good jokes in here – often in montage sequences packaged up guiltily – but his exploration of a marriage as its two participants officially hit middle age is more wistful than the trailers and advertising material let on. Leslie Mann (Apatow’s own wife) and Paul Rudd (a passable Apatow stand-in) are the couple with cute kids, difficult parents, a well developed seven-year itch and a growing realisation that for them it’s time to leave the valley, to face up to adulthood. They’re in financial trouble, they’re stressed, overwhelmed by technology, their kids. They look like a boomer couple, living boomer lives. But these aren’t boomer times. Circulating in the wings are the real boomers, putting in performances which really make the film zing. Albert Brooks as Rudd’s needy ageing dad, and John Lithgow as Mann’s. The times they are a changin’ was their refrain. For their kids, the times have not changed for the better. Reduced expectations, the end of ever-increasing wealth, midlife crisis. This Is 40 isn’t a comedy. It’s a drama with funny bits. Once I’d worked that out – about ten minutes from the end – I started enjoying it.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
The title is the plot, so what else can I say about this shortish action movie that feels like it came off the same production line as The Brothers Grimm? Well, Gemma Arterton looks good in leather leggings, she really does. And Famke Janssen makes a very good chief witch, she really does. But whereas Arterton is given many opportunities to swagger and strut, Janssen is for the most part swathed in make-up, which robs the audience of her expressive face – and she does do evil cackling pantomime witch very very well. The misuse of Janssen is symptomatic of a film full of missed opportunities. Director Tommy Wirkola can’t direct action and there’s not one set piece, and there are quite a few, that jolts the body’s unimpressed adrenal glands into life. The soundtrack is the sort that never lets up – bang bang bang, violin-violin, celestial choir, hoo haa, hunting horns, bang bang bang. It’s only towards the end, as the ironic eyebrow’s services are dispensed with and Arterton and co-star Jeremy Renner (the film isn’t interested in him at all, oddly) get busy with the serious witch-slaying that the film gets going. And then it’s over. Oh well, there’s another in the works, apparently. Can they please get Timur Bekmambetov to direct it?
Movie 43 (Entertainment One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A portmanteau comedy film of 12 different stories. I’ll give you some “for instances” – Hugh Jackman with balls and scrotum growing from his neck. Anna Faris asking her boyfriend to “poop” on her. Chloe Grace Moretz as a girl who has her first period at her middleschool date’s house – and the entire male household first freaking out, then laughing at her. Halle Berry injecting superhot chilli up her vagina. Movie 43 is one of the movie business’s periodic attempts to show the TV business that it still knows how to do risqué comedy. On this showing TV wins hands down, though there are a few good laughs in here. I did not say subtle.
Au Hasard Balthazar (Artificial Eye, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Now restored beautifully, the gorgeous monochrome of Robert Bresson’s 1966 drama about a girl, a donkey and life in a small French town is a great example of the work of one of the world’s most influential film-makers. It is deliberately hard to access – the actors are not acting, the characters are opaque and the dialogue is frequently little more than non sequiturs – and some people just aren’t going to like that at all. What they might find easier to admire is Bresson’s command of movie-making, his use of the frame, mastery of sound and the way he stages his film to resemble something elemental. At a squint, it’s a medieval mummers play.
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© Steve Morrissey 2013