Out in the UK this week
Zero Dark Thirty (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
“A lot of my friends have died trying to do this; I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.” The key line of dialogue, as uttered by Jessica Chastain in the drama about the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden. “Spared” – there’s a faintly biblical colour to that word and it’s deliberate. Mark Boal’s script is not only mechanically extremely good – so many characters are introduced so well in such a short time – but it also deals, with varying degrees of depth, with matters arising from the aftermath of 9/11. The use of torture as a way of extracting life-saving information; the notion that the West launched a crusade against Bin Laden’s jihad; that fanaticism can be found on both sides. Director Kathryn Bigelow has watched and internalised the lessons of Bourne and adapted them to her own ends. She harmonises the urgent fast-flash style with longer scenes of character development. Which brings us to Chastain, on whose angular physiognomy the film is hung, playing the nerdy fearless CIA operative who dedicates herself to the capture/assassination of the Al Qaida boss. Zero Dark Thirty is often referred to as a procedural, but in fact it’s a war movie, and as such is not particularly interested in the causes of Islamic radicalisation. Brilliant and nuanced though it is, in 20 years it’s probably going to look as gung-ho as John Wayne’s Green Berets.
Beyond the Hills (Artificial Eye, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
In 2005 a young woman in a Moldavian monastery was tied to a cross and subjected to an exorcism. She died three days later of dehydration. Cristian Mungiu takes the bones of that case and makes a bleak drama about as far from a traditional “exorcist horror” as you could imagine. Composed of long static takes, with no incidental music, Beyond the Hills builds slowly towards its muted climax, offering as it goes a remarkable insight into the religious (ie medieval) mindset. If you were one of the people who raved over 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (and if not, why not?) – Mungiu’s blackly comic story of abortion in the “golden age” of Ceausescu – Beyond the Hills similarly offers an austere (if slightly overlong – so shoot me) peek into a world few of us will ever experience.
Chasing Ice (Dogwoof, cert E, Blu-ray/DVD)
This documentary about James Balog and his Extreme Ice Project follows the photographer and former climate-change sceptic as he documents the disappearing glaciers of Greenland, Alaska, Iceland and, closer to home, Montana – largely by nailing cameras in place and letting their slo-mo timelapse testimony do the talking. It’s simultaneously a snapshot of an intrepid individual, a showcase of some rather astonishing photographs and a reminder that, in spite of the howling from sceptic corner, the climate is changing.
A Good Day to Die Hard (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
In recent weeks we’ve had Arnie and Sly in action hero mode. This week let’s say hi to Bruce Willis. But before we do let’s also remember that by the end of the reign of the 1980s action hero, the number of people actually going to cinemas was at an all time low. Just saying. Back to the film. It sends John McClane to Moscow where he is meant to be rescuing his wayward son from some criminal shenanigans or other, only to become immediately – and I mean while driving in from the airport – embroiled in some mental high-octane nonsense. The film then repeats the same three figures until it finally fades to black – the slaughter of human beings on an industrial scale, carmageddon-style mayhem, and touching father/son dialogue. Director John Moore could have made this work but he seems to have neither eye nor heart – neither the bloodshed, nor the pile-ups, nor the feelgood banter make any sort of impact. He’s further hobbled by a lame script regrettably low on wisecracks, which Willis himself must have read before he signed up – he’s an executive producer, after all. This Die Hard really is piss poor – and I liked the last one (unlike most). On this showing, of the recent dinosaur revivals, it’s Arnie in top spot, Sly at number two and Bruce coming in at a very very poor third.
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
Morgan Spurlock directs but never appears in this documentary covering the San Diego comic convention, which started in 1970s as a gathering of maybe 500 dweebs and has become a global phenomenon. Spurlock follows the footsoldiers visiting the event, as well as key figures (such as Stan Lee, who is also a producer) but it’s his interviews with famous nerds such as Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro, Frank Miller and Matt Groening that give this affectionate portrait real heft. And, laugh as much as you like about people who dress up as Darth Vader, buy the action toy, then buy another one so they have an unopened one, these fantasy freaks seem a very happy bunch.
For Love’s Sake (Third Window, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Takashi Miike gave us Audition, which has got to be the most exquisitely gruesome horror movie of the last 20 years. He’s playing a different game here, though also taking things to the max with a high school musical pushed to the point of ridicule, and then pushed a bit more. It’s an adaptation of a manga and it’s about a ridiculously sulky Japanese guy in a black leather jacket who is fawned over by a succession of young attractive women. I’m not sure why. And when he’s not looking moody, our guy is either singing, is being sung at – in a succession of exuberant Grease-style songs – or is fighting. West Side Story? Vaguely. Though Miike’s intention is satire – he’s critiquing the conservative nature of Glee and other culturally related phenomena – but it’s wafer thin stuff.
Diaz: Don’t Clean up this Blood (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
The 2001 G8 summit in Genoa turned into a bloodbath after police stormed a school being used as a base for protesters and journalists. This dramatic reconstruction takes the form of a disaster movie – we meet the victims in tranquil times, get to know them, and then the trouble starts as swarms of belligerent cops descend with nightsticks a-flailing. It is an angry and partisan film, edited as if thrown together (it isn’t), and gruesomely effective.
© Steve Morrissey 2013