22 September 2014-09-22

Ingvar Eggert Sigur∂sson in Of Horses and Men


Out in the UK This Week



Of Horses and Men (Axiom, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

The jacket photo of the DVD shows a man sitting on a mare that’s being mounted by a stallion. The look of passive acceptance on the mare’s face, randy enthusiasm on the stallion’s and stubborn resistance on the man’s says much of what you need to know about this instant classic, the debut by Benedikt Erlingsson. The mounting incident is the first of several discrete stories that eventually tie together, detailing life in rural Iceland, where a horse is still a valuable commodity and humans are seen, to a large extent, as at their best when they accept their animal natures. I guarantee something in this film will make your jaw drop. For me it was the big burly guy spurring his horse into the freezing sea, then forcing it to swim a good distance out to a passing trawler and shouting “Vodka?! Dollar!” as he gets near. The comedy is as bone-dry as the images are arresting, and under it all there’s a fabulously warm, humane spirit at work, with a spare aesthetic that calls to mind the offbeat work of the Swede Roy Andersson.

Of Horses and Men – at Amazon




Before the Winter Chill (Metrodome, cert 18, DVD)

Like his I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime), Philippe Claudel’s film is one sort of genre hiding within another. It looks like the story of a middle aged man having a fling with a younger woman, and of the spurned wife at home. In fact it’s a thriller, and I really can’t say any more than that without ruining it. Daniel Auteuil plays the brain surgeon whose achingly tasteful life with stay-at-home wife Kristin Scott Thomas is thrown into the blender when he hooks up with an ex patient (well, she says she is an ex patient), played by Leïla Bekhti, and starts an affair that’s initially tentative, then increasingly passionate. A beautifully made film of a very French sort that will disappear for good once Claudel, Auteuil and Scott Thomas’s generation have gone, it’s full of so many beautiful character touches (Auteuil’s fat fingers with his wedding band on so tight it would have to be cut off), gorgeous establishing shots (so many piles of autumnal leaves – symbolism alert) and acting of the “I speak; you pause” sort, that it’s easy enough to stay entertained until the movie’s real intentions declare themselves. Too elegant? Yeh, probably.

Before the Winter Chill – at Amazon




The Lost Patrol (Kaleidoscope, cert 15, DVD)

A Brazilian Second World War film. Rare enough. But it’s a good one with its own distinct tone, unlike almost any war film I’ve seen. Though the story is fairly routine – a Brazilian engineering corps lost in wintry Italy and worried that they’re going to be accused of desertion winds up de-mining a strategically important road (the Estrada 47 of its original title), with a photojournalist and a wounded Nazi along for the ride. No, that’s not your routine story either, is it? And its execution is even more out there – sober, deliberately quiet, intimate, spending a lot of time establishing its characters and so averse to big noises that even when a mine goes off it’s shown from way way back. And there’s even a nice, Martin Sheen-style Apocalypse Now voiceover delivered by its good-looking star Daniel de Oliveira, who can probably book himself a ticket to Hollywood, if he fancies it.

The Lost Patrol – at Amazon




The Short Game (Kaleidoscope, cert E, DVD/digital)

A documentary about young golfers which shows that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy didn’t just come from nowhere. In tried and tested manner director Josh Greenbaum introduces us to a number of seven- and eight-year-olds before we head into the tournament they’re all competing in. Among them are Zam Nxasana, the South African whose parents see him as a beacon for their post-apartheid country, Jed Dy, the Filipino whose extreme aversion to publicity of any sort gives the lie to the notion that these kids are all attention-seeking brats. And there’s Allan Kournikova, brother of Anna, who is the number one seven-year-old golfer in the world. This is a real film of two halves – in part one we meet these gifted boys and girls, in part two the film devolves into what looks and sounds like standard sports coverage of their tournament, complete with the usual inane “how did you feel about that” post-match interview (which the kids are already adept at handling) and it starts to drag. It’s 20 minutes too long and there’s little insight but it is a fascinating intro to a bizarre world. And my god they all have a great swing.

The Short Game – at Amazon




A Jester’s Tale (Second Run, cert U, DVD)

Here’s an example of the dreaded picaresque movie – no plot, just incident – Karel Zeman’s 1964 Polish comedy set during the Thirty Years War. Loosely, it’s a Good Soldier Schwejk affair following two guys, Petr (Petr Kostka) and Matej (Miroslav Holub), as they find themselves on one side or the other as the battle thrums and the winners become temporary losers and vice versa. Petr is your D’Artagnan figure, all virility, impetuosity, and with a comely face that wows the ladies (mostly in the shape of Audrey Hepburn-alike Emília Vásáryová), while Matej is Athos, Porthos and Aramis all rolled into one, all fists-on-hips laughter and cornball wisdom. And dreaded the film would be if you just watched it for its one-damn-thing-after-another plot. Which would be to miss the sheer technical brilliance of it, and why it’s been a key influence on film-makers at the fantastical end of the scale, Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson to name but two. A mad assemblage of live action mixed with animation, cutouts, surreal comp shots, it builds to a majestic and fairly insane conclusion in its last 20 minutes, during which Zeman overlays image after image (pre-digital, this can only lead to severe degradation, though the remarkably crisp restoration really helps) which are as audaciously creative as they are beautifully composed.

A Jester’s Tale – at Amazon




A Touch of Sin (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Jia Zhang Ke’s loose Altman-esque drama lifts the lid on modern China – showing us sweatshops, the corruption and the whorehouses, the whole such a portrait of negativity that it’s a mystery how it got to be made at all, given the Party’s stranglehold on cultural production. Beginning with the shooting of a trio of hammer-wielding thugs, moving on to the sight of a man beating his horse until it collapses, pausing to watch as a duck has its throat slit and its blood is run into a cup, it starts out as the story of a bitter hothead (Jiang Wu) who goes on a rampage of violence in an attempt to unseat the corrupt village chief. The level of splatter is high, which sits oddly with the pace of the thing, which seems to have Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia as some kind of structural and tonal reference, while its loosely connected (or not) various stories feature people at crunch moments – the man and woman discussing the end of their affair, the prostitute being taunted by a client, the garment worker causing a colleague to drive a cutting blade into his hand. However, it’s a tough watch, not because of the violence, but because the characters are held at arm’s length and we’re never quite sure who we’re meant to be rooting for.

A Touch of Sin – at Amazon




Miss and the Doctors (Drakes Avenue, cert 15, digital)

Two brothers, both of them doctors, fall for the same woman (Louise Bourgoin) after the brothers have been called out to deal with the absent mother’s diabetic daughter. Which one is she going to go for – is it going to be the nice smooth one (Laurent Stocker) or the gruff, offhand one (Cédric Kahn)? Hang on a second, both of them called out to a patient? This seems unlikely, and a wasteful use of a valuable resource, but the two brothers do indeed seem to work in tandem, just the first of many unlikelihoods that plague what should be a nice romantic drama with some sibling complications. One of the brothers, the nice one, is also an alcoholic, a fact we’re introduced to but which seems to have no bearing on anything that subsequently happens. In fact nothing has any real bearing on anything and there’s no real drama, but then, fittingly for a medically themed story, the characters are all x-rays and absolutely nothing in any area rings true. It looks great though, all plummy, woody shades, burnt oranges and ambers, as does Bourgoin, who you might have seen in The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec but is entirely wasted here.

Miss and the Doctors – at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2014





30 June 2014-06-30

Liam Neeson in Non-Stop

Out in the UK This Week



Non-Stop (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

Though there are pretenders, Liam Neeson is the king of the geri-action stars, a modern Charles Bronson whose attitude to violence is, to paraphrase the mild-mannered Dr Banner, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” This time Neeson starts out angry and hungover, then becomes increasingly vexed at 35,000ft, playing an air marshal no one will listen to, in spite of the fact that there’s a crazy man on board who wants to blow up the plane unless a large amount of money… etc … etc. Other big names include Julianne Moore, Dowton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy and 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o, but none of them really make much of a dent in Neeson’s usual mega-intensity. It is all highly reminiscent of the Jody Foster film Flightplan, or the Rachel McAdams vehicle Red Eye. Both of those were effective pressure cooker thrillers and so is Non-Stop. And if it takes all the clichés we’ve come to expect in the 9/11 world – good air marshals, bad Muslims, brave fighting men – and subjects them to a rude inversion, then all the better.

Non-Stop – at Amazon




13 Sins (E One, cert 15, DVD)

13 Sins is a Twilight Zone tale done to feature length, a high-concept story with an improbability you have to swallow at the beginning or it just doesn’t work at all. The swallowing bit comes just after we’ve met the film’s “hero” (Mark Webber), a guy whose lack of cash has made him desperate enough to accept the challenge to complete 13 tasks, each one gnarlier than the one before. But, and get this, once he’s accepted the first challenge, he will be killed unless he completes all 13. Would you sign up for this? Would anyone? This gigantic bolus of unlikelihood consumed, we’re off on an enjoyable ride, following our guy as he first eats a fly (easy), makes a child cry (nasty), takes a corpse out for coffee (effective and amusing), and onwards and downwards they go. Meanwhile, dragging along about three blocks behind the action is a cop (Ron Perlman) trying to make head or tail of a series of increasingly unpleasant and mindless crimes. No more plot, I’ll just say that the film actually comes into its own as it enters the home straight, when director Daniel Stamm and co-writer David Birke really start to get busy with the twists. Which are well worth hanging on for.

13 Sins – at Amazon




Ride Along (Universal, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

I believe Kevin Hart is popular. If so, Ride Along doesn’t explain why. Sure he’s a lively and clearly intelligent man working a comedy shtick borrowed from Chris Tucker, a squeaky-voiced, eye-rolling, physical routine that goes back to the minstrel shows of old. And mark me down as a big fan of Ice Cube’s Hollywood career – his Friday films, the Barbershop movies, his “suck a dick” scene-stealing in 21 Jump Street. But I’m mystified by the success of Ride Along, an update of the Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin act, with Hart as the cowardly shrimp cop wannabe riding along for the day in badass detective Ice Cube’s car. Is disdain the flavour of part one? It is. Is grudging respect the flavour of part two? Yes, also. Is it funny? Sadly, it is not. Even with Laurence Fishburne playing a very bad Mr Big.

Ride Along – at Amazon




Mirage Men (Perception Management, cert E, DVD)

They came from outer space, the UFOs. Whereas the documentary Mirage Men often feels like it’s coming from several directions at the same time. At its best, which is for most of it, it’s telling the story of UFO-spotting in the USA, and it gives us a bit of historical background – in 1952 the government decided to “keep an eye” on these UFO nuts, not least because they were always snooping around airforce bases, inadvertently providing great cover for Russkie spies. And then it gives us the main course, in the shape of Richard Doty, a government wonk who has spent decades feeding any old shit into the UFOlogist machine. As Doty, who features heavily, admits, some of these ingredients, to make him plausible, are true, but most of what he’s been shovelling in is just nonsense. Which is which though? Here’s where the film slightly gets its pants in a tangle. We meet Linda Moulton Howe, a seriously aerated film-maker who claims that this misinformation is part of a double bluff, and that we have indeed been visited by aliens. It would have been nice if Mirage Men had been able to stand back a bit, get some facts in order, get a timeline established, and find a few talking heads who weren’t too close to the material. It doesn’t, and ultimately this weakens it, making it another billow in the misinformation smokescreen rather than the wind of reason blowing it away. Flawed though it is, it’s still fascinating, even though, god knows, it might have been funded by the CIA.

Mirage Men – at Amazon




The Unbelievers (Revelation, cert E, DVD)

So it comes to this: that Reason (capital R) is now under such pressure – from creationist Christians, fundamental Islamists, and the full panoply of ultra-conservative religious groupings everywhere – that two famous scientists, biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss feel the need to tour the globe in the defence of the fruits of the Enlightenment (capital E). Gus Holwerda’s documentary follows them, as they preach to the converted and evangelise to the non-believers. Kicking off with an array of famous-name talking heads, who all testify to the importance of Dawkins and Krauss’s message – Cameron Diaz, Ricky Gervais, Werner Herzog and Woody Allen all step up, fairly pointlessly – the doc then settles down to a rhythm of following the men onto the stage, Krauss funkier in his purple Converses, Dawkins the more combative, prickly, less inclined to take prisoners, and into the wearying round of faceless hotel rooms, radio interviews, TV studios and so on. There are some lovely moments – Dawkins discovering that the Royal Society, an Enlightenment organisation par excellence, has a patron saint and that it’s Saint Andrew. “Why not Doubting Thomas,” he twinkles, hugely pleased with the speed of his own wit. Krauss is the emollient one of the two, the one you’d rather have a beer with, though he’s equally vehement that “the legacy of civilisation is under attack.” And that’s why, in spite of the “we’re not worthy” rock-fan approach that Holwerda takes, and the fact that there simply isn’t enough of the two men at full throttle in public debate, this documentary is worth watching.

The Unbelievers – at Amazon




The Guillotines (Metrodome, cert 18, DVD)

The Guillotines is a Robin Hood story from China, inhabiting that mythical sword-heavy past of 95 per cent of Chinese films these days, and focusing, bizarrely, on the bad guys. It actually takes quite a while for it to sink in, in fact, that The Guillotines, a crack squad of assassins with neat circular flying blades that decapitate a foe with ease, are the bad guys. Until Wolf enters, dressed in white, fair of face, Huang Xiaoming surely heading for Hollywood at some point. Like Huang, the film is handsomely made, it’s also beautifully lit, features an abundance of fine period detail and fiendish pre-gunpowder bits of steampunk weaponry. But this undoubtedly good story is entirely ruined by a director who simply can’t get his geography straight, turns every scene, every movement in fact, into a chaotic jumble of indistinguishable cause and effect. Even allowing for the Chinese style – faster in the edit, less concerned with hand-holding us from one scene to the next – The Guillotines simply doesn’t make the cut. Ha!

The Guillotines – at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2014





Hacking Democracy

Hacking democracy screengrab




It’s amazing what a bit of solid investigative journalism can turn up. Hacking Democracy is essentially an interim report on the work of the Black Box Voting (BBV) organisation, a group of public spirited US individuals who were set up by activist Bev Harris after she discovered that a US senator had been the CEO of the company that counted his votes. BBV started asking awkward questions about the nation’s “impregnable” electronic voting system after cock-ups and/or fixes (delete according to political allegiance) at both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Couching questions so cautiously that you suspect that legal departments might have had a hand in writing the script, the documentary nevertheless zeroes in on the uncomfortable nub of the matter – why can’t the “infallible” computers which rely on touch-screens and optical scanning get their sums right? The machines in question are made by Diebold Election Systems, an outfit whose CEO publicly supported George Bush at the 2004 elections. So, is something or someone fiddling with the figures? And if they are – one scene shows a hacker having an easy time of rewriting voting tallies without leaving any trace that he was there – is the USA in fact not a democracy at all?

Occasionally rambling, more one-sided than the average open-minded believer in democracy might want and struggling to approach the magic 90 minute mark, this is nevertheless a remarkable example of citizen power, an indictment of the power of big business and of political inertia at the highest level. If it asks a lot more questions than it effectively answers, it’s at least a stark warning – governments all over the world trying to save money are rushing to implement similar electronic voting systems too.

© Steve Morrissey 2006


Hacking Democracy – at Amazon




25 March 2013-03-25

Writers/stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram in Sightseers. © studiocanal

DVD and Blu-ray out in the UK this week


Sightseers (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Serial killing never looked so deliberately dowdy as it does in Ben Wheatley’s excellently funny and very British comedy about a couple (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote) whose tour of pencil museums and the like is interspersed with grim, impassive slaughter. Think Natural Born Killers, towing a caravan in the rain.

The Hunt (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Thomas Vinterberg’s powerful 1998 drama Festen, the first of the pared-back Dogme films, examined the skeletons that rattle around in bourgeois closets and he’s at it again in this drama about a teaching assistant (Mads Mikkelsen, a long way from Bond villainy here) accused of sexual misbehaviour by a five year old. What follows is a witch hunt in grand The Crucible tradition, though Vinterberg’s real concern is the way the middle classes use certain forms of language – think “inappropriate behaviour” – to close down rather than open up understanding.

Great Expectations (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

David Lean’s great 1946 adaptation can rest easy, this version of Dickens’s great novel about a young oik turned into a gentleman thanks to a mysterious financial endowment joins the long list of forgettables. David Nicholls did the rewrite, turning it in the process into something similar to his novel One Day – the story of a horrible young man who has it all, discovering along the way that there’s more to life than simply being a cock. Except, in the shape of Jeremy Irvine, our hero Pip remains a cock to the end. There is good stuff in Mike Newell’s film and the further down the cast list you go the better it gets, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Ewen Bremner and Olly Alexander all standing out. But the top end of this Great Expectations is a classic of miscasting and misdirection. Irvine I’ve already mentioned, then there’s Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham, simply horrible rather than deranged and as for Holliday Grainger’s Estella (remember Jean Simmons’s Estella in Lean’s version – cold as hell and consequently hot as hell?), the expression “vinegar tits” jumps to mind.

Boxing Day (Independent, cert 15, DVD)

The latest collaboration on adaptations of Tolstoy stories by director Bernard Rose and actor Danny Huston sees them tackling Master and Man, Huston playing a property speculator spending Christmas being driven from one empty house to the next by an uppity British loser (Matthew Jacobs). If it’s not as great as a previous Tolstoy adaptation by Rose/Huston, Ivansxtc, the central relationship between the two men, which swings between resentment and shut-the-fuck-up, is really something to behold.

Starbuck (Signature, cert 15, DVD)

A warm, funny, engaged and clever French Canadian comedy about a sperm donor being tracked down by the hundreds of offspring he sired single-handedly (obligatory masturbation joke). Starbuck is like a good Richard Curtis film – it’s well cast, has strong incidental characters funnier than the lead (think Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill), which leaves a nicely shambolic Patrick Huard to do the dramatic heavy lifting.

Turn Me On, Goddamit (Element, cert 15, DVD)

It’s the girls who want to get laid, not the boys, in this refreshing Norwegian comedy about a teenage girl in a nowhere town whose life consists almost entirely of school, boozing in the bus shelter and masturbating to phone sex. Made with a wide-eyed innocence that heads complaint off at the pass, this is a surprisingly gentle, very charming comedy. 

The Princess Bride (Lionsgate, cert PG, Blu-ray)

It’s 25 years since William Goldman’s fairytale comedy starring elfin Robin Wright, handsome Cary Elwes and hilarious Mandy Patinkin came out and halfway through rewatching this restoration on Blu-ray I suddenly realised that it more or less supplies the plot template and most of the characters for Shrek. I’m sure the lawyers were there before me.

Thale (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

This tense fantasy thriller about a Norwegian police clean-up team finding a mythical creature in a hidden cellar is this year’s Troll Hunter. Unexpected, refreshing, atmospheric and tightly plotted, it’s beautifully shot with vivid colours and unusual deep-focus photography, oh the wonders of digital. Even if you hate this sort of thing, it’s worth watching, and if you do hate this sort of thing you’ll be happy to hear it’s only a short 75 minutes or so. I found some comments from its director, Aleksander Nordaas, over on Pirate Bay underneath the magnet and torrent links to Thale, pointing out to the freebooters who are downloading his movie that he poured his heart, soul and all his money into this film. Not chiding them, not busting their balls, just asking nicely if they would also consider spending a bit of coin through the legal channels. How amazingly even-tempered he is, as well as talented. I hope some of them did – in spite of Thale’s unfathomably low IMDB rating, Nordaas really deserves to make another film.

Thale – at Amazon


The review for Thale first ran in the DVD/Blu-ray reviews for 4 March. The film is in fact out on 25 March. I got my dates wrong. And it is such a good film it’s worth repeating. SM


© Steve Morrissey 2013


keyhole 2



“That penis is getting dusty” – a line of dialogue in wonky auteur Guy Maddin’s latest film, another arthouse exploration of arthouse themes delivered in high contrast monochrome, from a camera on a bungee and via an editor with attention deficit disorder.

There are a couple of famous names too, just to lure in the unwary, or more likely to open the wallets of the various art foundations that funded this mad collision of references. Isabella Rossellini, longtime Maddin collaborator and utterer of the great line in his film The Saddest Music in the World – “If you’re sad and you like beer, I’m your lady” – she’s here. So too, as you can see from the above picture, is Udo Kier, a guarantor of oddness and, usually, of awfulness too.

Plot? Well, it hasn’t got much of one. Jason Patric – I don’t think I’ve seen him in a film since Speed 2 and age has improved him, wiped some of the shit-eating smugness off his face – plays a kind of Humphrey Bogart Mr Big, pinned down inside a house with his gang and expecting an attack by the police any minute. Until that comes he wanders about a bit, discovering stuff’s all a bit weird in there. There’s a naked old guy on chain tied to Rossellini’s bed. It’s meant to be her dad. We can see his penis, in fact Maddin shows it to us a couple of times quite gratuitously, as if this were one of the proofs that what we’re watching is arthouse. So, a bit Key Largo with nudity, then. That Patric’s name is Ulysses is significant; Maddin is adding a layer of Homer’s Odyssey for extra artistic kudos to a film that’s already thick with allusion – Universal monster movies of the 1930s, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Citizen Kane, James Whale.

The effect of this opaque plotting, old-time set-dressing, bizarre characterisation – I didn’t mention the soundtrack that seems to have been put through a wonkalizer but it’s there too – the effect of all this is to produce a film not unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead in look and tone. And I bet you that isn’t what Maddin was after. But being born in 1956 means Maddin has taken a full hit of Lynchian radioactivity and the filmic genes have mutated. The Guy can’t help it.

So by the time we get to “that penis is getting dusty” – it’s an erect wooden one sticking randomly out of a wall in a corridor – uttered by Patric in passing, we really don’t care any more. The next cut is to a woman licking the stump of an arm-amputee and I have to admit that at this point I rolled my eyes and quietly groaned “for god’s sake”. You’d think a guy nudging 60 might have got that kind of artschool nonsense out of his system.

On the upside. Thinking long and hard here. I’m going to digress a bit. Maddin does understand how gorgeous black and white can be and he does make interesting films – somehow managing to be frenzied and languid at the same time. The Saddest Music in the World is even odder than Keyhole but it does at least have a plot (a competition to find the saddest music in the world, with Rossellini playing a brewery heiress, hence her hilarious line), and it’s got a sense of humour. Maddin’s My Winnipeg, a very odd portrait of his home town, is a poetic meditation on the power of native towns on the psyche and has the same nightmare (and yes, Lynchian) texture as Keyhole. But it too is about something and once Maddin’s dreamy, oblique modus operandi has been absorbed, it’s a really powerful film.

This has all the hallmarks of Maddin’s unique (if we ignore David Lynch, or possibly even Terence Davies, at a push) style of working (see Davies’s Of Time and the City for a lovely, dreamy and ranting portrait of a home town, Liverpool in his case). In Keyhole Maddin is working the “other” avenue of film-making, the one that lost out to the Hollywood style when silent movies were still king, the one that proceeds by layering impressions, atmospheres, sounds and edits together to produce something less linear, more poetic, often more disturbing.

On this basis alone Keyhole is a film worth watching, that it represents the other way of doing it in a world that doesn’t seem to have much time for it. The various foundations that funded Keyhole will certainly be very happy – all those arthouse tickboxes filled in. Or maybe I’ve read it all wrong and Maddin was actually having a laugh at the institutions’ expense – delivering arthouse by numbers. I wouldn’t put it past him.

© Steve Morrissey 2013


Keyhole – at Amazon



4 January 2013-01-04

Toby Jones in Berberian Sound Studio

Out in the UK This Week

Berberian Sound Studio (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

“A dangerously aroused goblin prowls the dormitory” – a line that says it all from the never-seen film that soundman Toby Jones is working on in Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the brilliant, Romanian-set Katalin Varga, a brilliantly overheated, Italian-set homage to 1970s “giallo” horror. Really worth watching with headphones on, this one.

Berberian Sound Studio – at Amazon


The Imposter (Revolver, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

One of the most gripping films of 2012, a semi-documentary about how a 20something French juvie managed to pass himself off as a missing 16-year-old from Texas. And why the family bought it. A remarkable film that I’d just about got my head around, when off it went in another quite a different and shocking direction.

The Imposter – at Amazon


Grabbers (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

If you could cross the TV comedy series Father Ted with a big-budget Hollywood monster movie, this no-budget Irish tale of pissed-up yokels having a close encounter of the absurd kind would be it. This is a superbly cast and directed film and deserves to become a real cult gem.

Grabbers – at Amazon


You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (StudioCanal, cert PG, DVD)

Anyone with a love of the arch, the meta, the theatrical will love Alain Resnais’s masterly retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story as a play within a play within a play, embracing a stack of interesting themes, not least the ageing of the boomer generation, one self-defined by youth. It’s got a cast of big names, headed by Michel Piccoli, and shows that even at the age of 90, Resnais, director of 1959’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, has still got it.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – at Amazon


Take This Waltz (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The always excellent Michelle Williams plays the dithery wife being tempted by the artist over the road, while Seth Rogen plays it straight as her apron-wearing, recipe-writing stay-at-home house-husband in a drama from director Sarah Polley which, like her more potent Away from Her, examines a relationship under stress.

Take This Waltz – at Amazon


Partners in Crime (StudioCanal, cert 12, DVD)

The French director Pascal Thomas takes an Agatha Christie story, adds 1960s sports cars, glam European locations and loads of Hart to Hart “playboy detective” nonsense then leaves boulevardiers Catherine Frot and André Dussolier to get on with it. Gorgeous to look at, and sleep through.

Partners in Crime – at Amazon


Jackpot (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

This is more Joe Orton than Jo Nesbo, who wrote the original book, a jokey oompah-oompah about a bunch of criminals who win the lottery and then start killing each other. It’s Scandinavian, it’s bloody and if you’ve not OD’d on Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, there are worse and far less entertaining ways of watching people die.

Jackpot – at Amazon


© Steve Morrissey 2013

Now Is Good

Jeremy Irvine and Dakota Fanning in Now Is Good

In Love Story, the 1970 weepie in which boy meets girl and girl dies – sorry, that’s it – it is, let me reiterate, the girl who dies. It always is, sickness being part of the female condition, in mainstream Hollywood of the era anyway. Different decade same idea in Now Is Good, a boy-meets-girl-and-girl-dies weepie with Dakota Fanning as the pale, interesting girl, Jeremy Irvine as the boy she falls for and leaves behind.

To go into further plot detail is pointless – the publicity material points out that Tessa (Fanning) has a bucket list and that losing her virginity is at the top of it. But that’s little more than a tease, because the film is really all about the dying – anyone remember any actual plot detail from Love Story? So let’s talk about Fanning’s British accent, which is terrible. For some reason if you’re blonde and an American actress then it’s just a matter of time before you’re required to lube up and insert that British stick up your ass – Witherspoon, Johansson, Zellweger, Paltrow and Williams (Michelle) have all done it.

Now it’s Fanning’s turn and what a cacking mess this accomplished actress makes of it. And it’s not for lack of trying. This girl is putting so much effort into getting the vowel sounds right – “I don’t caaah” she tells someone at some point – that she completely loses touch with the rhythms of the language, leaves dangerous pauses where there shouldn’t be any, jumps onto the ends of other people’s sentences when she can’t logically yet know quite what they’re saying. It’s so bad, in fact, that it throws everyone else off too – including the excellent Kaya Scodelario, who plays Tessa’s naughty best friend, her coltlike beauty knocked back a fair bit by the make-up department (mustn’t upstage the star).

Now Is Good is a Mills and Boon or Harlequin story for girls who like horses. Enter Jeremy Irvine – still glowing from War Horse – playing the boy next door (literally) whose backstory about a dead dad is touched on just enough to let us know that he is damaged. And he makes a pretty good stab at being the lead, lovely hair, lovely jawline, though he’s going to have to get himself to the gym if he’s going to make the transition to proper masculine acting.

So I hated it? Not entirely. Too fragrant when dealing with the shitty decline that leukaemia brings with it, and buggeringly awful though the acting was for the most part, the film managed to pull the odd weepie moment out of the bag, in true ta-daaah style. These came mostly from the interaction between Paddy Considine, playing Fanning’s tough, devastated dad and Olivia Williams, playing her flighty, drinky me-me-me mum.

But there was the big one, where Fanning and Irvine first kiss, after he’s run a mile from her after realising he’s falling for a girl who’s not going to be around for very long. “What’s the worst that can happen?” she asks him, attempting to get him to kiss her. “It’ll hurt,” he replies – meaning when she’s gone. “It already hurts,” she says in a little choked voice, clinching the deal. And a little tear sprang into my eye unbidden.

Now Is Good – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012

3 December 2012-12-03

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All distribution, certification info applies to UK only


The Dark Knight Rises (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/Download)

The series has been overpumped but Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film is definitely the best of the bunch, a luxuriously long, character-packed comicbook adventure all the better for featuring Christian Bale’s caped crusader very little.

The Dark Knight Rises – at Amazon

The Bourne Legacy (Universal, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/Download)

It’s the Bourne Leftovers, with Jeremy Renner taking over from Matt Damon, the taciturn amnesiac superspy now having a memory, a loose tongue and little raison d’etre. S’OK. Just.

The Bourne Leftovers – at Amazon

New Year’s Eve (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/Download)

A Love, Actually idea – a parade of largely unlovely people finding their inner human – gilded with a cast of Famous Actors (De Niro, Efron, Pfeiffer, Biel, Heigl and on and on). The end-credit blooper reel is worth waking up for.

New Year’s Eve – at Amazon

Ninja Scroll (Manga, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

One of the most classic animes ever, looking razor sharp in Blu-ray, full of action, incident, sex and blood and a forceful reminder that even Scooby Doo animation technology can produce something of expressionistic loveliness.

Ninja Scroll – at Amazon

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (Revolver, cert E, DVD)

A 1995 interview with the Apple founder recorded a year after he’d been fired from his own company. Covering his past (a geek at 12), the current scene (“Microsoft is McDonalds”) and the future (“the web, it’s going to be huge”) it’s honest, relaxed, fascinating.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview – at Amazon

A Trip to the Moon (Park Circus, cert U, DVD)

A restoration of one of the most famous films ever made, Georges Méliès’s 110-year-old 16-minute sci-fi and special effects motherlode – in colour too, every frame hand painted. The soundtrack by Air is as impish as the film itself, and there’s a well researched accompanying doc.

A Trip to the Moon – at Amazon

Sound of My Voice (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A woman from the future becomes a cult leader in the present – or is it all hogwash? Two investigative reporters go undercover to find out in a genre-confounding drama, low key and surprisingly tasty.

Sound of My Voice – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012

Roll Out The Barrel: Pubs Never Looked So Good


A collection of documentary shorts on the British pub paints a warm, comforting picture of one of the country’s most cherished institutions. But is it a true one?

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,” intones a voice theatrically, “by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” The quote is from Samuel Johnson and it kicks off The Story of English Inns, the first of 20 collected documentary shorts from the archive released in June 2012 by the British Film Institute.

Alas, anyone who’s ever been to a British pub will tell you that this adage conveys only half the truth. For every charming hostelry with crackling log fire and horse brasses, there are ten places where the carpet is sticky, the toilets haven’t been cleaned since George Best’s heyday and at closing time the landlord thinks nothing of unleashing the hound of the Baskervilles.

If there were such a thing as the propaganda wing of the hospitality industry, these are the sort of films it would produce. Produced between the early 40s and early 80s, they’re patriotic in a woolly way and, typically, look at Britain from the English end of the telescope, the southern end to be specific. Class is everywhere, too, in a warm, paternalistic way. The working man is an honest son of toil in a flat cap, downing a pint of wallop, enjoying a game of dominoes and bantering away in an impenetrable accent. In the lounge bar a couple of hundred miles further south, cravat-wearing extras from the Battle of Britain drink halves of warm bitter, one hand holding the handle of the dimpled glass jug, the other thrust casually into the pocket of a pair of slacks. Meanwhile, behind the bar, “mine host” polishes the glasses, smiling benignly.

Women? There aren’t many. And the few we glimpse seem to be there with their husbands. These are the decades before Breezers and brollies, when lager was still always referred to as “continental” and you could smoke yourself senseless on cigarettes endorsed, in advertisements, by doctors.

In at least two of the shorts we get a quick history of the pub’s development – first as a roadside refuge run by monasteries for pilgrims, hence the large number of religious names (Three Kings, Cross Keys). Then as a billet for the retinue as monarchs made their royal tours of the country (hence all the Queen’s Heads, King’s Arms etc). Then as an overnight sanctuary and stabling depot for travellers and the mail coach (Travellers Rest, Coach & Horses). And so on.

Timeless yet always in flux, then, the pub’s one constant is that the stranger is always welcome and that the drink is ever humble and honest. Or so the propaganda department would have us believe.

What’s particularly interesting about this collection, apart from the portrait it paints of the populace living in harmony, fraternal bonhomie radiating from every face, is the inkling it gives of the future, the world we live in now.

In The Old Pheasant, from 1958, the landlord notes how the arrival of television has made big inroads into his takings. So he’s done the sensible thing and made his pub more attractive with film nights, during which he screens old classics. Since that time quiz nights, curry nights, karaoke and, most recently, tribute bands have extended the idea. TV’s response has been the humungous cinema-sized screen, now in almost every living room in the country. Consequently the British pub is now struggling to survive.

Another big change in recent decades has been the arrival of the gastropub, and that too is reflected here, in a short called The Friendly Inn, also from 1958, which briefly takes us to the Lugger Hotel in Portloe, Cornwall, where a pretty girl and her beau are seen tucking into local lobster and a glass of white wine out on a verandah while the sun does pretty things with the waves. The Lugger is still there, incidentally, and still selling local lobster.

Being a chronological assortment, women do eventually start to turn up, as does an embryonic version of the drinks universe we now inhabit. In All in Good Time, a 1964 film in colour starring a young Richard Briers, a newlywed in a charming old-school pub in Banbury tries to get a pineapple juice for his good lady wife. Pineapple? Juice? Briers grins toothily and says it again. S-L-O-W-L-Y.

This onslaught of endless good humour is broken only occasionally – by a pair of technical short films by the brewers Bass and Guinness – and most remarkably by the collection’s standout, A Working Men’s Club in Sheffield, a 40-minute German documentary that trains an outsider’s gimlet eye on the working and leisure life of a city which still, in those days, made steel for the world.

Like most releases by the British Film Institute, this is a handsome set, the films have been cleaned up and are accompanied by a solidly researched 50-page booklet providing a summary of each film and plenty of background on the more notable.

Whether it is an accurate record of the British Pub in years gone by is highly debatable. But it is an excellent primer on the Pub at mythic level, a place where sound beer, fair play and common sense coalesce to form the beating heart of the British character, and mention is never made of the smell emanating from the gents.

Roll Out the Barrel: The British Pub on Film (a Region 0 DVD) – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012

I Became a Ukrainian Vodka Baron

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Meet Dan Edelstyn. He’s made a film, he’s resurrected a vodka brand and he’s reviving the fortunes of a faraway Ukrainian village

Halfway through making a documentary about his grandmother, director Dan Edelstyn realised he was going to have to start all over again.

The film he’d been shooting since 2005 – working title From Bolshevism to Belfast – had been a great story. It told of his Jewish grandmother’s sudden exit from Ukraine in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. How privileged, pretty Maroussia Zorokovich had wound up in Belfast, where her husband, Dan’s grandfather, had promptly gone native and become more staunchly Orange than the Paisley family. It was the story of the 20th century – of persecution, revolution, migration and turmoil, of tradition and assimilation.

What made the film so compelling was that it was based on a manuscript written by his grandmother, part of a treasure trove Edelstyn had found up in his mother’s loft – “a suitcase full of photos, letters and negatives,” the 37-year-old director from Hackney tells me. “It was like a time machine into the past and I immediately wanted to go back there, to find out what had happened.”

So far, so good. But on his first recce out to a bleak corner of the Ukraine in 2008 to the village of Douboviazovka, where Edelstyn’s ancestors lived until 1917, he found something which forced him to put three years of planning and work onto the back burner – the family’s vodka factory.

“I had no idea it was there. Up until then the film had been wholly about my granny. A Who Do You Think You Are, sort of thing. But since I’m not famous it was more Who The Fuck Do You Think You Are. And then, suddenly I hit this turning point.”

“The realisation of what I had to do was instantaneous – it blew me away,” says Dan, still brimming with shambolic enthusiasm after four more years of slog. What he had to do – and did – can be guessed from the film’s title, How to Re-establish A Vodka Empire. The world’s first, and only, hyphenate indie filmmaker-vodka baron was born.

Many people dream of making a film. Most fail. People set up businesses all the time. Most fail at that too. But to do both at the same time, when you’re scarcely known in the film world and have no experience of business, well that’s kind of optimistic, isn’t it?

“You do need balls,” says Dan. “You can’t do this sort of thing without commitment. When things get tough you have to keep going. Balls, energy and love.”

Yes, love. Because on top of the whole film/vodka lunacy Edelstyn had also gone all misty-eyed with philanthropy. He’d decided that by reviving the Zorokovich vodka brand, selling it as a premium product, he could help revive the fortunes of his ancestors’ dying village. “I just got carried away with the spirit of the quest” is how he puts it, breezily.

It’s the old standby of the documentary maker who hasn’t got a story – introduce a bogus countdown, a synthetic challenge or a Supersize Me dose of jeopardy. Can Dan revive the fortunes of an entire Ukrainian village? Find out after the break.

“Here I was trying to turn around a village and I’ve done nothing in my life back in England. I’m not some kind of businessman, and here I am making big noises in Ukraine.” But what’s clear from the film is that the resistance Dan meets is genuine and hairy. There’s an uncomfortable scene where he is in the village for the second time and is heckled and jeered at by the locals. “They can get a bit paranoid about film crews turning up, making out they’re all drunks,” Dan now says, defensively.

He also had to convince the current owners of the Douboviazovka Distillery that he’s not there to claim back what many might consider their birthright. “There was initially anxiety about what I was doing there. They were suspicious.” Meanwhile, back in London, wherever he turns for support he meets scepticism. At University College London Dr Francois Guesnet, expert in Russian-Jewish history, puts it to him bluntly – “Are these people your friends? Why are you doing it? You probably will be deceived or disappointed.”

Without giving away the plot of the whole film, let’s just say that Dan has a few hurdles to cross, not least of which is the fact that his wife/camera operator Hilary becomes pregnant and gives birth to their daughter, his dog dies, his first attempt to create a palatable vodka blend stinks and a couple of very enthusiastic meetings with marketing types wind up nowhere. And he’s broke, credit cards maxed out completely.

Most people would have given up after the first hangover. Somehow Dan, driven by what must be the spirits of his ancestors, goes on to create a new blend of vodka, organises for its import into the UK and gets it into Selfridge’s, the Dorchester and No 1 Aldwych, among other places.

“The first thousand bottles you see me carrying up the stairs in the film have sold out, nearly. And I’ve just put in an order for 2,000 more. I’m going out soon to order a further 3,000. We’re creating a demand and it’s building as it goes. To help the village we need to sell maybe 100,000 bottles per year. At the moment the distillery is open for a month and then shut for two, so there’s definitely flexibility at the production end.”

And, let’s not forget, Daniel Edelstyn has made a riveting and thoroughly charming film as he’s gone, ornamented with quirky kitchen-table animation and the sort of dramatic reconstruction which doesn’t have you reaching for your revolver.

“How do I manage to make a film and create a vodka brand? Good question. If you’re juggling then you’ve got to have intense focus on what you’re dealing with. Do one thing, then do another. Don’t get distracted. Love and energy. Energy and love”.

How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire is currently on the festival circuit. Go to www.myvodkaempire.com for more details on the film and the vodka.

How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012