17 June 2013-06-17

Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson in Hitchcock

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

Hitchcock (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Stuffed to the gunnels with good stuff, Sacha Gervasi’s biopic about Alfred Hitchcock is nevertheless a disappointment. Nothing wrong with the actors – Anthony Hopkins plays the director as a dead-eyed master of deadpan, greedy for everything – women, drink, food – the greed born of despair. Helen Mirren outdoes him as Alma, Hitch’s wife, screen adapter, muse, fixer, assistant director, wise counsel, editor, warrior queen. And around them spin Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh), Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles), Danny Huston (as lush writer Whitfield Cook) and James D’Arcy (a nice turn as mother’s boy Anthony Perkins – Hitchcock knew why he was casting him). Nothing wrong with the settings either, Gervasi making being rich in California in 1960 look about as tickety boo as life gets. But the decision to get clever – to try to draw vague parallels between Hitchcock and Ed Gein (the killer who inspired the character of Norman Bates), the cheapjack psychologising (the shower scene is Hitchcock’s unconscious score-settling with anyone who ever crossed him,), the notion that movie-making is, gulp, a form of voyeurism, Hitchcock’s obsession with blondes, these are all dealt with too obviously. It’s a nice bit of entertainment struggling for depth but unsure if it’s for Psycho nuts, Hitchcock obsessives or people who just want a good drama.

Hitchcock – at Amazon

 

Warm Bodies (Entertainment One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Nicholas Hoult used to be an irritating child star but has now, it seems, become a classically handsome young man, with the sort of proper big skull that the movies love. Here he’s playing the average disaffected teenager who also happens to be a zombie. And being disaffected means he’s actually a bit pissed off with being a zombie. Enter Teresa Palmer, a nice normal girl whose boyfriend Hoult first kills, then eats, as you do when you’re a zombie. If you’ve seen even the posters for Warm Bodies, you’ll know what happens next. Here’s another clue – his name is R, her name is Julie, there’s a balcony scene. This is a well conceived teenage fantasy zombie movie with a couple of new spins on the old zombie formula that keep it as fresh as a rotting zombie corpse can convincingly be kept. Oh, and John Malkovich is in it, and he isn’t playing a zombie, though it’s fairly hard to tell.

Warm Bodies – at Amazon

 

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Element, cert E, DVD)

Paedophilia in the Catholic Church. It’s 2013 and no one is going to be shocked by that phrase any more. What is shocking, as Alex Gibney’s documentary makes abundantly clear, is the lengths that the Church went to cover it up. Through a series of interviews with victims, testimony from expert witnesses and good old-fashioned pavement-pounding Gibney comes up with some killer revelations – that, for example, the Church has been aware of the problem of paedophilia and the priesthood for 1,700 years; that in the US there was a troubleshooter priest who would parachute in and buy parents’ silence for $250K; that there’s an organisation within the Church called the Servants of the Paraclete who “treat” paedophile priests. Really, on this shameful evidence, especially considering its teachings on sex, the Catholic Church should just man up and shut up shop.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God – at Amazon

 

Accused (Arrow, cert 15, DVD)

Not to be confused with the excellent British TV series by Jimmy McGovern, this Danish film from 2005 about a swimming instructor accused of sexual abuse by his daughter has been released to capitalise on the popularity of The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, who plays the loving dutiful wife. And it is a remarkable piece of work, tightly composed, claustrophobically shot, brilliantly acted (by Troels Lyby aka the Accused) and with an ability to blindside the viewer with plot developments that go beyond the innocent/guilty question.

Accused (aka Anklaget) – at Amazon

 

To The Wonder (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Terrence Malick reworks the Garden of Eden parable as a modern relationship drama, with Ben Affleck as Adam and Olga Kurylenko as Eve, a pair of sun-dappled lovers wandering through meadows, goofing about in Paris, inhabiting gorgeous empty houses, while Malick’s silent camera swoops about them and the only real dialogue comes from Kurylenko speaking French in voiceover. As with most Malick films, there’s more than a touch of the alien eye about this one, the beauty of it all is undeniable, Malick’s use of the camera is extraordinary and his eye for an image is unimpeachable. There just isn’t much of a plot.

To the Wonder – at Amazon

 

Mama (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

One of the 13 or so films that Jessica Chastain has appeared in the past three years (she even managed to fit in an episode of the long-running TV series Poirot). Here she’s almost unrecognisable as a rock chick with jet black hair, the new stepmom to a pair of feral kids who seem to have brought a supernatural presence with them back from their years spent out in the woods. It is an immensely impressive horror film from debut feature director Andy Muschietti, an Argentinian who mixes Spanish haunted-house atmosphere with the supernatural jolts of The Exorcist and the eerie-kids vibe of The Innocents. It doesn’t stop there – characters out of Hammer, effects out of J Horror, a soundtrack evoking now Saint Saëns’s Danse Macabre, now 1940s melodrama, Muschietti is a man who knows his stuff. And he isn’t just in the business of name-checking, he’s melding all the influences expertly and throwing in a couple of visual flourishes of his own which are so expert you’ll watch them again on freeze-frame. The ending, in which Muschietti changes tack repeatedly, forces us to re-assess everything we’ve just seen, sympathy switching from mother to father, to children, to Mama – that is just superb.

Mama – at Amazon

 

No (Network, cert 15, DVD/VOD)

Gael Garcia Bernal plays the advertising honcho brought in run the TV campaign to defeat President Pinochet of Chile in the plebiscite held in 1988 into his ongoing presidency. The country was asked to vote Yes (for Pinochet) or No (for the opposition). Pablo Larrain’s film is more interested in the how than the who – because what Bernal’s character does is bypass politics altogether, favouring instead a series of happy clappy adverts, jingles, celebrity endorsements. So on the one side we have Pinochet the dictator and torturer, on the other a purveyor of Coca Cola-style backlit, beaming moronic happiness. In spite of the fact that it’s all shot in handsome mock-1980s advertising style, No is a hard sell, doubly so since Larrain gives us very little sense of Garcia’s mountain to climb and the success, or otherwise, of his various approaches. Perhaps you have to be Chilean.

No – at Amazon

 

The Fall (Acorn, cert 15, DVD)

The five-part thriller set in Belfast that saw Gillian Anderson selling silk blouses, steely professionalism, but most of all cool sexiness as DSI Gibson, a woman on the trail of a man who is on the trail of women. We learn early on who the perp is (hello Jamie Dornan), and he’s a mould-breaking villain – family man, relationship counsellor, decent all-round guy. And murdering psychosexual weirdo. If DSI Gibson isn’t so mould-breaking – Helen Mirren has walked the road of the tough female copper before in Prime Suspect – Anderson brings a remarkable breadth to the role. She’s exactly the sort of genuinely likeable, frightening, funny, clever law-enforcer we hope the police force is full of. The Northern Ireland settings are pretty refreshing too.

The Fall – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

Accused aka Anklaget

Sofie Gråbøl and Troels Lyby in Accused

 

Finally being given a wider release to capitalise on Sofie Gråbøl’s profile, courtesy of Scandi-crime series The Killing, this Danish drama about a man accused of incest is a brooding drama with an unusually tight focus and a real knack for cranking up the tension.

 

Having mentioned Gråbøl, I must now immediately jump in and point out that she is not the star. And good though she is, the focus of this intense drama is Troels Lyby, who is great as you watch him. In retrospect you realise just how great.

 

I am using words like “brooding”, “intense”, “tight” and “focus” because that is the entire point of the film. From start to finish it is about Henrik, the father (Lyby), a swimming instructor who’s chummy, likeable, dependable, loves his wife (Gråbøl), has the usual minor problems with a teenage daughter. As the film opens mum and dad are in the office of a child psychiatrist because of her, listening patiently as the shrink tells them a rambling story of a troll. It seems almost accidental.

 

What director Jacob Thuesen and cinematographer then proceed to do – as Henrik is in short order accused of incest, picked up by the cops, taken in for questioning, taken to court, and so on – is close the visual focus right down on Henrik. There are other people in this drama, Gråbøl, notably, Paw Henriksen as Henrik’s decent workmate, but increasingly and almost from this first shot the already austere colour palette – Scandi-blue, you might call it – is complemented by the tightest of tight frames, very shallow planes of focus, fat-free editing delivering just enough information but nothing more. The lighting does the same thing. Frequently we see Henrik illuminated by a gash of light while the rest of his surroundings are in the murk.

 

This throws the focus entirely on the accused man. Regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty, this suite of artistic decisions puts us in Henrik’s world. The full weight of either being found out, or of the false accusation (we’re not sure which it is) are almost palpable. We’re sweating with him, angry on his behalf.

 

So did he do it? It actually doesn’t matter. Accused is playing with the viewer’s natural human tendency to “imprint” – as chicks do when born – on anything they get close to. See Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Mr Vengeance for a drama working the same territory (though with a lot more gore and humour).

 

Then, at 50 minutes in, Accused does something unexpected and starts to address the question of Henrik’s guilt. And at this point I had a serious misgivings that we were about to dip into the familiar tropes of a Prime Suspect. I was wrong. In a sequence taking place between Henrik and his daughter Stine (Kirstine Rosenkrands Mikkelsen), during which the daughter says nothing at all (again the tight focus), the film moves from tense to almost unbearably gripping.

 

So yes, worth watching. Gråbøl fans might find her a bit underused, though her warmth and plausibility are a big plus (and she even wears a Sarah Lund-style jumper at one point, knitwear fans). Accused is a very accomplished, entirely successful piece of work. It probably suits TV best – that tight focus, those highly personal concerns being the province of the living room – though watching it on a big screen in the dark might add an extra little frisson.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Accused – at Amazon