Out in the UK This Week
The Last Stand (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Welcome back Arnold Schwarzenegger, just a touch arthritic after all those years running California and now, with seven projects announced on the imdb, clearly cranking them out quick before the ibuprofen wears off. So what do we have here? It’s Arnie as a sheriff in a nowhere town down near the Mexican border being inveigled into an Unforgiven style strapping back on of the guns by a seriously bad escaped gangster (Eduardo Noriega) who’s heading down Arnie’s way in a hilariously fast car. The big idea is a lone-hero High Noon showdown but in essence this an 80s action movie – choppers, black and white cop cars screaming down the highway, guys with moustaches, a high body count. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, and director Kim Jee-Woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) knows how to handle the action, especially the monster final car chase through a cornfield in which Arnie – whose catchphrase this time seems to be “I am the sheriff” (just in case his acting hadn’t convinced you) – finally accepts the inevitable and goes all governator on Noriega’s ass.
Lore (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Cate Shortland made Abbie Cornish a star with Somersault. The fact that Cornish has squandered that is not the director’s fault. Shortland is up to something faintly similar here, with a tale of a motherless family making its way across Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War. The setting and family are the stuff of Hitler’s fever dreams – blonde girls, unspoilt countryside, birdsong – and once Shortland has set up our family of unthinking supporters of the Führer, off she sends them on a journey both physically and psychologically demanded, to be presented with the meaning of war and Nazism. Running under this – hence the Somersault reference – is repressed sexual longing, never fully expressed, when the oldest girl (Saskia Rosendahl, who plays Lore and is Shortland’s Abbie Cornish this time out) meets a young man on the road. Who turns out to be a Jew. To be honest this diversion into sexual territory doesn’t really help what was shaping up to be an extremely interesting drama about denazification and the culpability of “the ignorant German”.
The Liability (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
There’s a comedy trying to escape from a thriller in The Liability, the story of a completely hopeless young man and his road trip with a professional hitman. Jack O’Connell (the young one) holds his own against Tim Roth at his driest and their scenes together on a road trip to do a job are extremely funny. And then a siren-like Talulah Riley enters and the film dives off up a different genre alley and becomes just a generic thriller. Pity. It’s good. But could have been great.
Nothing But the Truth (Signature, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A 1970s-style political drama which sees Kate Beckinsale forsaking the black rubber of Underworld to play a principled journalist going to prison rather than reveal her source. It’s aiming for the grand sweep of All the President’s Men, but writer/director Rod Lurie is no William Goldman and after a while his “everybody says just what’s on their mind” soap-style way of moving the action forward starts to drag everything down. Which is a shame because Beckinsale isn’t bad and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on in the support cast (which includes Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga and David Schwimmer – go on, admit at least one of these has piqued your interest. By which I mean Schwimmer). Ignore the fact that this drama takes the case of Judith Miller (the New York Times journalist who seemed to be acting as a White House stooge in the build up to the second Iraq War) and bends all the facts out of shape. There’s no profit to be had there.
Aurora (New Wave, cert 12, DVD)
A three hour film following a very dour, shifty Romanian chap as he wanders through the wreckage of his life, making things worse as he goes. What he’s actually up to is the stuff of spoilers, but I suppose you could loosely call this a thriller, with Cristi Puiu the focus of the “action”, such as it is. Piui was the writer and director of The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and he’s doing something similar here in a film that takes place in shabby apartment blocks, in underground car parks, out in cement-coloured Bucharest. It’s all filmed in what you might call Romanian New Wave Drab, and there’s hardly a shot that isn’t composed through the frame of a doorway – we’re as outside the action as this man is seemingly disconnected from himself. If all that description makes Aurora sound difficult, it isn’t. Though it is bleak, it is undoubtedly compelling.
I Wish (Arrow, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
This is genius film-making, a series of stories all exquisitely conceived, acted, shot, focusing on a young Japanese boy who is convinced that if he stands where the bullet train from one direction meets the bullet train from the other, then his wish will come true. It’s made by Hirokazu Koreeda, director of After Life and Air Doll, and is one of the most purely sweet yet not sentimental films I’ve ever seen.
Gangster Squad (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
On paper a film starring Sean Penn as a gangster, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as cops on his case, all set in 1940s Los Angeles – hat, cars, femmes very fatales – sounds like a high-octane rush and a half. Add in a supporting cast of … where do we start?… Giovanni Ribisi, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie? Cinematography by Dion Beebe – whose work on Collateral was cool and gorgeous. But there’s something missing in Gangster Squad. A script, mostly. But also something in Ruben Fleischer’s direction. What worked in Zombieland doesn’t work here. Then he was in spoof territory; here he’s in pastiche. There’s a world of difference. With spoof you can just hold things up and we’ll laugh. With pastiche we need plot, characters, motivation too. All absent.
Gangster Squad – at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2013