10 February 2014-02-10

James McAvoy builds bridges in the community in Filth

Out in the UK this week


Filth (Lionsgate, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

An adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about a member of her majesty’s constabulary – aka the Filth – and his glorious, drug-fuelled, wretched, sweary stumble towards the abyss. For anyone who has only seen James McAvoy as a lean-limbed X-Man superhero this badger-rough portrayal of a whisky-breathed Scottish cop will be a revelation. As it will for anyone not used to Welsh’s basic MO (see Trainspotting). Filth is a real film of two halves. There’s a big, chest-beating and vividly debauched Rabelaisian part one – with McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson smarter, faster, more aggressive than any of his more politically correct fellows. But after the party of scamming, shagging, drugging and boozing comes the hangover, which is where director Jon S Baird struggles slightly to keep up the energy and wit as Robertson suffers payback for his monstrousness. Don’t be put off though, it’s well worth it for the obnoxiously funny and much longer first part and the cast has real breadth and depth – Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, loads and loads more.

Filth – at Amazon



Captain Phillips (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

I saw A Hijacking last year – a Danish film about a container ship hijacked by mad-eyed Somali pirates – and the temptation with this American film about a container ship hijacked by mad-eyed Somali pirates is to compare the two. So let’s not. Instead I’ll say that Captain Phillips is a tense, nerve-wracking film that reminds us how remarkable Tom Hanks is (he’s the titular captain), able to combine seeming opposites – the usual everyman qualities that Hanks is famous for with the stickler, broom-up-ass rigidity of this character he’s playing. Apart from Hanks, three things are really notable about this big budget number – that someone has seen Contraband (or the Icelandic original, Reykjavik-Rotterdam) and has realised what a fascinating warren-like location a container ship is for a thriller; that whoever is hiring guys to do pirate turns is really hitting the mark (the Somalis in both this and A Hijacking are entirely believable and terrifying); and that the decision to hire director Paul Greengrass was a good one, except that the back half of the film appears to have been re-written to add more Bourne-style “get me the President” dialogue and procedural hoo-hah, and Hanks and the Somalis are so good that the film really doesn’t need it. As for the “don’t fuck with the USA” finish, hello Hollywood.

Captain Phillips – at Amazon



Seduced and Abandoned (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

So what we have here is old mates actor Alec Baldwin and director James Toback schmoozing their way around Cannes trying to finance a remake of Last Tango in Paris set in Iraq and called Last Tango in Tikrit. Ostensibly. In fact the whole thing is a feint, a ploy to talk to the people who actually matter in the movies – the money men – plus a few name directors (Scorsese, Coppola, Polanski, Bertolucci) and a few A-list stars about the business of making movies. And it works excellently, because both guys have made their name, have nothing to prove and have enough self-respect not to kiss ass. They’re having fun. And they actually know the people they’re talking to. So we actually get interviews with actors – Ryan Gosling, James Caan and Jessica Chastain notably – that aren’t pre-digested PR guff, Gosling being particularly insightful about the process of acting, Caan fatalistic about the fact that his best days are behind him, Chastain on how reliant she is on directors. The money men are less refined but more self-contained, most of them “what can I say” Hollywood Jewish guys of a certain age who are courteous but dismissive of Baldwin’s chances of opening a film (he’s too TV) or of the film’s ability to raise finance if Neve Campbell remains as the star (we can throw her under a bus, muses one money guy, only half-jokingly). At the end, Toback, who is no spring chicken himself, asks everyone – stars, directors, producers – about their thoughts on dying. It’s a wild card moment in a film that has veered wildly between mock-doc, semi-serious exposé, fan-fiction and gossip sheet, and been entirely entertaining at every turn.

Seduced and Abandoned – at Amazon




How I Live Now (E One, cert 15, DVD)

Actress-of-the-moment Saoirse Ronan’s roster of self-absorbed characters swells by one with her portrayal of a moody, withdrawn and almost entirely up-herself American who pitches up in the sort of rural bohemian middle-class family of Land Rovers, dogs and long bracing walks that Richard Curtis would recognise. And just as she is slowly learning to uncoil a little, enjoy the sun-dappled bucolic idyll, easy-going life and the attentions of her handsome cousin (George MacKay), this up-till-now beautifully drawn drama throws a wrench in the works with a nuclear explosion that puts the entire country onto a war footing, martial law, forced labour, and so on. And oddly it’s around this point that director Kevin Macdonald – whose My Enemy’s Enemy, The Last King of Scotland and even The Eagle show that he’s no stranger to films with a martial slant – loses control of his material. Things suddenly start moving at bewildering speed – she’s in the family home, hauled off by the military, billeted with some folks we never meet, escaped, and on it goes, none of it registering or meaning anything until what is clearly a movie for young adults that’s been given the wrong certificate (that 15 is mysterious, but this isn’t the place to discuss it) dribbles to a “and that’s how I live now” pffft.

How I Live Now – at Amazon




Le Week-End (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The last of a trio of film written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell which all deal with love as it affects older folk. In The Mother ageing Anne Reid was taken in rough Chatterley-esque manner by young buck Daniel Craig. In Venus, old goat Peter O’Toole gazed impotently at the tender flesh of cocktease Jodie Whittaker. This time it’s oldie meets oldie as Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan head off to Paris for a weekend spent recapturing the heady days of their youth, a time when they didn’t take each other for granted or bitch all the time. “Can I touch you?” asks Broadbent dolefully. “What for?” replies Duncan in the half-teasing, half-reproachful tone she uses to control his boisterousness throughout. An actorly film, which isn’t to say it isn’t well observed by Kureishi, who is now old enough to be writing about relationships of his own that have hit a kind of coping, 12-step stasis. And though it threatens to continue just like this – he advances, she repels – Kureishi saves two redeeming scenes right for the end. One, at a party thrown by mad old roué Jeff Goldblum (doing his bug-eyed Goldblum thing) when Broadbent blows a fuse spectacularly. Two, the final scene, when it’s revealed that long journeys make for deep relationships. A happy ending to a journey worth taking.

Le Week-End – at Amazon



Enough Said (Fox, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/DTO)

Like The Hours recently, a decent thriller impossible to watch without awareness of the fact that Paul Walker was now dead, the adult romance Enough Said is full of the “what ifs” of James Gandolfini, who plays a divorced slob who starts up a relationship with a masseuse (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He’s a beautiful sad presence in a film that’s actually really all about her – what the masseuse doesn’t realise instantly is that another of her clients, karmic though poisonous poet Catherine Keener is the man’s ex wife, and that the slob Keener keeps bad-mouthing is none other than… you guessed it. But it’s when the penny does drops and the masseuse chooses to stay shtumm that things get interesting. In some hands this would be the starting point for farce, but with Nicole Holofcener as writer and director – see Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money – the territory is more your angst-filled middle class semi-comedy complete with trademark Holofcener scene set in a restaurant where characters drink wine and laugh showily while a subtext ricochets around the room. Look for sighs rather than laughs and you won’t be disappointed, and if Louis-Dreyfus never quite escapes from an acting style that might be called Seinfeld Declamatory, Gandolfini is usually on hand to show her quietly how it’s done.

Enough Said – at Amazon



Prince Avalanche (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two guys who paint lines on a remote road, spend all their time in each other’s company and fill up the long stretches of the day with blank silence, or conversations about stuff that’s profoundly inane, or vice versa. David Gordon Green’s latest film is Waiting for Godot, American style, in other words. Rudd and Hirsch gimp gamely as the two numbnuts stuck on the road to nowhere, with only the odd intervention by an old truck driver who hands out a shit-talking bunch of wise-assery along with the moonshine, and is an absurdist god figure if there ever was one. Rudd gets the best end of it as the tortured almost-bright boss, with Hirsch coming across as a Jack Black-lite character of doofus amiability. It’s probably the nearest thing George Washington, his debut, that Green has made and Prince Avalanche has similar 1970s visuals by DP Tim Orr – lens flare, sideways light, chickens running about. Green’s inclusion of nature itself as an almost present character is another Washington echo, as is the faint feeling that there’s some missing ingredient that is keeping it from greatness.

Prince Avalanche – at Amazon




© Steve Morrissey 2014

27 January 2014-01-27

Ted Levine and Katia Winter in The Banshee Chapter

Out in the UK this week




Rush (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/VOD)

Recognising a good thing when he sees it, director Ron Howard sticks with Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan for this entirely satisfying, largely factual re-run of the rivalry between 1970s Formula 1 stars Niki Lauda and James Hunt. There’s tons to like in this film – Chris Hemsworth makes an excellent Hunt, and Daniel Brühl is actually an even better Lauda. But it’s Morgan’s screenplay which is the thing of wonder. Managing to tell the real story of the dramatic “couldn’t make it up” 1976 Formula 1 season and yet bouncing along simultaneously on the sort of good versus evil dynamic that Hollywood demands, Morgan’s screenplay clearly paints Hunt the Shunt as the drawling sex-god hero, the devil-may-care posh Brit cavalier to Lauda’s Teutonic rat-faced roundhead – the film’s title isn’t a four letter echo of Hunt’s name for nothing. But it also provides enough information for a more accurate reading – that Lauda was clearly the better driver and the real hero of a season that saw him crash and literally burn, and yet come back from near death to try and win the driver’s title. As for the rest of it, the writing and casting apart, Ron Howard seems to feel at home in the 1970s and catches the dangerous, sexiness of Formula 1 back then. Strangely, it’s only the race scenes that are slightly underwhelming, though Morgan and Howard make them short enough to keep even F1-agnostics on side. Otherwise, this is fast, exciting titanium-bottomed entertainment.

Rush – at Amazon



The Selfish Giant (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A pair of non-achieving schoolkids from homes with the social services permanently camped outside embark on a spree of low-level crime and opportunistic totting – a roll of copper cable off the railway here, an abandoned cooker there. They leave behind a life of knuckling down at school and passing your exams, a life they’re clearly not equipped for – Swifty (Shaun Thomas) is overweight and dim, his compadre Arbor (Conner Chapman) twitches furiously when he’s not on his ADHD medication. And, in the brutal, filthy scrapyards of Yorkshire they start finding their niche. Generally speaking, the heart sinks when a film is set in the North of England. Too often it’s a case of plucky, plain-speaking “poor but happy” folk ducking and diving to make ends meet, to a soundtrack of violence, swearing, ugliness, dirt and misery. All are evident in The Selfish Giant. And yet somehow, Clio Barnard, also director of the extremely brilliant but also “grim up north” drama/documentary The Arbor, comes out smelling of roses rather than chip shops. Partly that’s because of the acting by the two first-timers and the odd recognisable face (such as Sean Gilder, who you may remember as Rat Pit Game Master in Gangs of New York. No?). And partly that’s because Barnard allows glimpses of beauty among the squalor. But mostly it’s because she expertly plants an ominous seed early on that suggests things are not going to work out well for these boys. I will say no more.

The Selfish Giant – at Amazon



Sunshine on Leith (EV, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Dexter Fletcher’s debut film was a the rather excellent Wild Bill, a great urban western set in the East End of London. So why not follow up with a musical, eh? Taking the bittersweet songs of 1980s Scottish band The Proclaimers and hanging them on a story about soldiers returning from Afghanistan to a life in Scotland that offers one heartache and the other joy, Fletcher has gone for the jukebox approach of Mamma Mia! And he’s hit pretty much all the problems Mamma Mia! hit – the squeal as a song is shoe-horned into a tight space, the variable singing voices of actors (Jason Flemyng and Jane Horrocks among the crowd of newbies), plus song-and-dance big numbers which demonstrate that the big-screen choreographic genius of yore has been lost. But if you accept that Fletcher’s going for a democratic, kinda scrappy ambience, and that Peter Mullan is never going to sing like Bing (actually, he’s not at all bad) and that the big finishing number (it’s 500 Miles, of course) is going to be more flashmob than Busby Berkeley, then Sunshine on Leith deserves a hearing by all musical lovers. Who get a cameo of Charlie and Craig Reid – aka The Proclaimers – chucked in for fun.

Sunshine on Leith – at Amazon



The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/DD)

With dark locks, pale skin and features sculpted from ice, Lily Collins is gothic enough of aspect to play Clary Fray, the heroine of Cassandra Clare’s series of young adult novels. And the butt-kicking Fray is a refreshing arrival for anyone who, starting about halfway into the second Twilight film, wanted to punch Bella Swan’s face in and not stop until about an hour after the last film had ended. Clary Fray is actually closer to Harry Potter than Swan, a half human/half mythical Shadowhunter muggle who doesn’t realise what she is until she witnesses a full-blooded Shadowhunter (Jamie Campbell Bower) killing some nefarious demon at a nightclub, an event she alone, of all the others present, is able to see. Soon, she’s been Potterishly inducted into a world of mystery and danger, and is gazing longingly upon the beautiful countenance of Shadowhunter Jace (Bower), to the Twilight-ish chagrin of her adoring fully human best-buddy Simon (Robert Sheehan). It’s very easy to do that sort of thing all the way through this first Instrumental instalment – here’s the Dumbledore equivalent, there’s the ancient rivalry between immortal beast A and immortal beast B. But City of Bones escapes the easy charge of photocopy plagiarism by managing to be sexier than Twilight, punchier than Potter. In addition it delivers epic miles of backstory at speed, between bursts of action and incident, interesting new characters and regular changes of venue. And get this – the effects aren’t all CG, and they’re all the better for it. And Lily Collins’s Clary is a recognisable person, fun, funny, smart and incredibly brave. This could run and run.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – at Amazon




The Epic of Everest (BFI, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)

The restoration of Captain John Noel’s 1924 film of the British Mount Everest Expedition is an unexpectedly majestic affair. Unexpectedly because the film was made a long time ago, when you’d expect the mixture of big cameras and the harshness and verticality of the Himalayas to be a bad fit, to say the least. And because it’s a silent film, and so lacks contextual narration and location soundtrack. Or maybe it is the lack of sound that makes the film so majestic, forcing us to view the mountain in its savage beauty, the quaintness of the Sherpa women with their fantastic braided hairstyles, the almost comical juxtaposition with British Empire chaps in solar topees and gabardine jackets heading for the third British attempt at the summit of the world’s highest mountain, 29,000 feet above sea level. Simon Fisher Turner’s new score helps enormously too, adding bleak moans and yak bells into his largely ambient soundscape, which is never intrusive, entirely right. The expedition is notorious because of the fate of its two leading lights – George Mallory and Sandy Irvine – and there they are, rugged, cheerful young men leading a caravan of 500 men and animals towards death or glory. Death, as it happened. But mostly it is majestic because Noel got it right, in shots which pushed his lenses to the limit, in his careful framing and structuring of the film, in the fact that he never overdoes the stiff upper lip, and with intertitles that are to the point and redolent of the attitudes of yesteryear. When Mallory and Irvine are finally declared missing presumed dead, Noel’s intertitle reads: “what better grave for men who have lived in nature than a grave of pure white snow?”

The Epic of Everest – at Amazon



Hannah Arendt (Soda, cert 12, DVD)

Hannah Arendt was a fascinating political theorist who came up with the notion of “the banality evil” after watching Adolf Eichmann (the “desk murderer” as the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal later called him) giving evidence at his trial in Israel in 1961. Eichmann’s defence was that he was just doing his job and Arendt, taking him at his word, started to formulate her thesis – a simple lack of humanity, of being fully engaged in the world, is all that’s necessary for people to do unspeakable things, not a pair of horns and a metaphysically wicked moral sense. This outraged her fellow Jews, got her ostracised by many in fact, as did her observation in the pieces she wrote for the New Yorker that Jewish leaders in effect aided the Nazis in their exterminatory endeavours by their overly acquiescent attitude. Margarethe von Trotta’s film goes into all this, at length, and struggles to make a human drama from what was and is an extremely heated debate. Barbara Sukowa as Arendt looks every centimetre the mid-20th-century intellectual – smoking, tweedy, focused, politicised. And around her wheel an array of actors depicting friends and family in New York, older friends and comrades in Israel, while Klaus Pohl plays philosopher Martin Heidegger, with whom Arendt had a student fling, before he came out for Hitler. Do we need to know about the fling? Not at all. But it adds a sexual frisson to this bookish drama that only becomes fascinating as Arendt comes increasingly under attack.

Hannah Arendt – at Amazon



The Banshee Chapter (101, cert 18, DVD/VOD)

I think Zachary Quinto might have put some money into The Banshee Chapter. Judging by the looks of it, it wasn’t very much. But if he did then it was money well spent. Because what writer/director Blair Erickson and writer Daniel J Healy have come up with is a decent splicing of the political conspiracy thriller with the old fashioned “don’t go into that cellar” horror story. Katia Winter plays the fit girl in the figure hugging T shirt, a journalist trying to find out what happened to her old university pal, a guy who managed to get hold of some of the drugs that the US government were using in their mind-control experiments of the 1960s (cut to actual footage of President Clinton admitting that, yes, this did go on) and was never seen again. On the way our investigator picks up raddled old countercultural writer Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), a drinky druggy gun-happy Hunter S Thompson in all but name, and off they go together into dark places, where hands reach out through the stairs, faces appear at windows and shrieking things suddenly wheel into view more often than seems strictly necessary. Boo! Is there anything groundbreaking going on in The Banshee Chapter? No. But Erickson’s decision to shoot almost everything in near darkness and in quasi found-footage style really helps with the mood of disorientation, Katia Winter is the sort of plucky woman you want to survive and if you’ve ever had a soft spot for Hunter S Thompson’s acidulated bullshit, well Levine’s performance helps things along too.

The Banshee Chapter – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2014