Hours

The meet cute: Paul Walker and Genesis Rodriguez in Hours

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

29 August

 

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

On this day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina touched down for the second time in Louisiana, USA.

The seventh most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded up to that point (three of the other six were also from the 2005 hurricane season), it was the costliest natural disaster the country has ever had to bear.

The hurricane had formed to the south east of the Bahamas on 23 August 2005, at which point it was termed a tropical depression. By the next morning it had developed into a tropical storm, and was given the name Katrina. As it moved towards Florida it gained in intensity, becoming a hurricane just two hours before it arrived between Hallandale Beach and Aventura.

It weakened over land, but once it was back over the Gulf of Mexico it picked up strength, growing from a category 3 to category 5 in nine hours. This unusually rapid speed of development was down to the unusually warm waters in the Gulf at the time.

At its peak, on 28 August, Hurricane Katrina was producing sustained wind speeds of 175mph (280kmh).

Its second touchdown was its most destructive. In all it killed 1,833 people. Many of the deaths happened in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the levee system designed to keep flood water away from the city failed, resulting in around 80% of the city flooding.

 

 

 

Hours (2013, dir: Eric Heisserer)

The saddest thing about Hours is that it came out just after its star, Paul Walker, had died. Sad because he’s very good in it, a revelation after becoming an increasing irrelevance in the Fast and Furious films, especially once Dwayne Johnson had arrived, a more obvious opposite number to Vin Diesel, giving Walker little to do except mutter “what he said” now and again.

Hours shows a between-projects slightly paunchy Walker trying to regain control of his career, in a small film that probably cost buttons to make and which requires him to actually act. He pulls it off. And in case you think this is fanboy talk, I never really rated him.

So, the plot: Walker plays a guy in New Orleans who loses his wife in childbirth. Then Katrina hits, the hospital’s power goes out and everyone is evacuated. Except for Walker and his new premature child, too delicate to move and inside a respirator with its own power source.

Except that the power source goes out and the respirator is now on a battery backup. Then that starts to malfunction. And the baby’s drip runs out. And so on.

Jeopardy, in other words, one new challenge after another for the man to solve or else his baby dies. This is what they call “stakes”, I believe, and Walker plays it well and for real. And largely in semi-darkness. Though we have seen him in the full light of day – in flashback scenes that show him and the baby’s mother meet-cuting, courting, falling in love, and so on. They’re lovely scenes, between Walker and Genesis Rodriguez, and if the stories are true that they were an item, it’s easy to believe (and makes the film even more poignant).

A couple of doctors (until they leave), Genesis Rodriguez and enough people to make up a dinner party for one scene, a couple of bad guys who arrive later on to add more jeopardy when Walker’s travails with machinery, power supply and medication are threatening to yield diminished returns, there really isn’t a very big cast for this film. And the set – a couple of rooms and an empty corridor. Lighting – barely.

Which means that the onus falls on Walker, who rises to the challenge, occasionally being a bit actorly, it’s true, but behaving for the most part as you’d expect a man in the situation to do – taking on responsibility, trying to keep panic at bay.

Eric Heisserer’s script does something similar, getting a bit Hollywood-melodramatic here and there, particularly at the end (no spoilers) which goes all out for a big finish, which it has entirely earned. But on the whole it’s a clever and tight piece of work that does an awful lot with very little – a high concept piece, in fact.

Hours isn’t a big film, but it is a good one. And that, at the end of the day (particularly at the end of the day) is really all you want.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • One of Paul Walker’s best (and last) films
  • A fine directing debut by Eric Heisserer
  • A screenplay that builds jeopardy expertly
  • Jaron Presant’s low-key cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Hours – Watch it now at Amazon

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20 January 2014-01-20

Alexandra Holden, Lake Bell and Fred Melamed in In a World

  

In A World (Sony, cert 15, DVD)

Writer/director/producer/star Lake Bell’s debut takes a real life event – the death of voiceover king Don La Fontaine (the guy whose every trailer started “In a world…”) – and builds an almost Woody Allen-ish comedic story around it, about the pretenders jostling for his crown. Onto that it bolts a sentimental story of young under-achieving vocal coach Carol (Bell) and her difficult Oedipal relationship with her dad (Fred Melamed), a big noise in the voiceover biz. And off the side it hangs a “will they/won’t they” romance between Carol and studio whizz Louis (Demetri Martin). And then, as if that weren’t enough, just to the side of that it twin-tracks the story of Carol’s dizzy sister (Michaela Watkins) and her really nice, funny boyfriend (Rob Corddry). That’s a lot of stories. But they manage to jangle along together towards a satisfying finish in this funny feisty comedy mixing the freshness of indie with the sleekness of Hollywood because the focus is mainly on Carol, and largely because it is written and performed at screwball speed and with no time for cutesy girls with sexy baby voices – one of the film’s clear girl-power messages. Is In a World perfect? No. But it is very good, and the odd untied loose end, the occasional not entirely believable relationship actually doesn’t matter that much when a film moves this fast and with this much sass.

In a World – at Amazon

 

 

Computer Chess (Eureka, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

For a good ten minutes at the beginning of Computer Chess I thought I was actually watching a documentary made in the 1970s, about computer geeks at a competition to see whose program plays the best chess, all shot on that weird blurry black and white TV video which was about back then. But then I remembered that it was a film by Andrew Bujalski – often credited as the inventor of mumblecore – and I reset my expectations to “mock-doc comedy”. A couple of days later I reset them again. Because this really is an immensely smart film with a lot to say, hidden inside what looks almost like a verité offering about socially clueless people all meeting up, the sort of people who go to pieces the moment they look up from their keyboard. And it’s set in the 1970s because that’s when the culture we live in now was born – geekworld. Against that Bujalski sets the dominant culture of the day, the letting it all hang out, druggy, sex-is-compulsory world of the late 1970s. It’s the old romantics versus the new puritans, the roundheads versus the cavaliers. Negotiating these twin poles are programmers Peter (Patrick Riester), a new nerd in town, and Mike Papageorge (Miles Paige), the braggart who spends much of his time wandering the hotel looking to get laid. Where they go, what they do, the people they bump into – a geek girl in a tight stripy 1970s sweater who just hasn’t noticed how big it makes her breasts appear, the super-officious competition organiser, a couple who fancy swinging the night away – that’s how the film passes its time. And every encounter is golden.

Computer Chess – at Amazon 

 

Hours (Signature, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Poor Paul Walker. He became an increasingly unimportant element in the Fast and Furious franchise and was visibly being hustled towards the exit in the last, rather good, instalment of the series, playing second banana to relative newcomer Dwayne Johnson, his dialogue reduced to a series of “what he said” lines. But he’s left behind him proof that he actually could act, a decent thriller that’s also an indication of where Walker might have been heading in the future. It’s a one-hander, more or less, with a slightly tubby Walker playing a new dad whose wife dies in labour just moments before Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. Leaving dad literally holding the baby – no, not literally, she’s in an incubator – while around him pandemonium breaks out, the hospital is evacuated, the power goes off, and a string of “it just got worse” incidents test his ingenuity and resolve. Whether the baby die or not is the maguffin keeping this film moving towards its big melodramatic 1950s finish, while Walker (also the film’s producer) demonstrates a likeability, pluck and depth that were never on display while he was razzing a Dodge Charger or Chevrolet Camaro up and down the strip. Pretty pretty good.

Hours – at Amazon

 

 

Kelly + Victor (Verve, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Boy meets girl for mephedrone and erotic asphyxiation in this explicit Liverpool-set drama strong on mood, avoiding “ferry across the fucking Mersey” (as director Kieran Evans puts it in the extras Q&A) cuteness. Avoiding cuteness all round in fact. Unless you count the love story it tells, which is genuinely touching. Because what Kelly + Victor does do rather nicely, once it’s introduced us to two youngish people who meet at a club full of dancing druggies and then go home to Kelly’s, where she inducts him into a whole world of pleasurable pain, is introduce us to them again, as people who are totally overwhelmed by love, as if they were rushing on something that came in pill form. I haven’t read the British Board of Film Classification’s ruling on why it’s been handed an 18 certificate but I guess it’s either for the relentless language, the relentless nudity, the drug-taking, or the scenes of strangling, cutting with broken glass and other S&M stuff that the two committed actors (big shout to Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris) have signed up for.

Kelly + Victor – at Amazon

 

 

Museum Hours (Soda, cert 12, DVD)

The sight of Mary Margaret O’Hara as one of the actors in industry outsider Jem Cohen’s fusion of documentary and drama is just one of the signs that Museum Hours isn’t going to be your average movie. O’Hara has released only two albums in a career lasting more than 30 years, but those are the stuff of legend (allmusic.com calls her Miss America “a work of mad-scientist genius”). So, to the film itself, a work of pensive observation about a visiting Canadian (O’Hara) being taken under the wing of an art gallery guard (Bobby Sommer) in Vienna. He tells her he used to manage rock bands, back in the day. She listens to these and other stories, smiles, is taken to coffee, shown about town, smiles some more. Meanwhile, Cohen plays about with our expectations, dropping in moments of pure documentary – I doubt anyone in this film apart from O’Hara and Sommer is an actor, apart from the naked people who turn up in a fantasy sequence (more playing about). Museum Hours isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea (lemon, no sugar), but it’s part of a new emerging field, where the boundaries between – mumblecore and documentary, or overground and underground, or gallery and cinema – all meet and blur. And once you’ve re-attuned expectations accordingly, it seems to reveal itself as an invitation to understand the simple joy of looking. I think.

Museum Hours – at Amazon

 

 

White House Down (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

If you’ve seen Olympus Has Fallen, in which sidelined spy guy Gerard Butler saves POTUS Aaron Eckhart, you, like me, have had your time severely wasted. But wait till you see White House Down, in which sidelined spy guy Channing Tatum saves POTUS Jamie Foxx. It’s even worse, though it takes a good 45 minutes to establish its uselessness, and then another half an hour before it finally enters hilariously must-see terrible territory. The plot: Tatum is a sidelined spy guy, Foxx is the Obama-alike President, all folksy shit and windbaggery, and the White House is attacked. And Tatum saves him. Is that a spoiler? Only if you think that in a Roland Emmerich film – the director who blew up the White House in Independence Day but didn’t kill Prez Bill Pullman – the president is going to get killed. It is grim and unpleasant to bring up Emmerich’s nationality here, but a German making a film that is so in thrall to the cult of the leader, well, he should just have asked for a rewrite. The film badly needs one anyway, unless you are really interested in the chain of command once a president is missing presumed (by all but Channing) dead, or have a fixed desire to have the 25th Amendment explained. Short answer: once this film got greenlit on the strength of its nine word pitch it just didn’t know what to do to fill its 131 minutes of running time and so does the action movie equivalent of jazz hands – helicopters, explosions, guys running around, stuff. Things to note in case you take one of the many invitations to nod – Channing keeps his top on, though there is a hose-down scene strongly reminiscent of the opening to the 1996 Pamela Anderson vehicle Barb Wire; Jamie Foxx deliberately and depressingly opts to swap presidential shoes for trainers at one point, thus reassuring the brothers that… oh, you know; there actually are really good actors in this (nothing against Tatum and Foxx, but Richard Jenkins, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods). Anything else? I did say it was skullfuckingly stupid, right?

White House Down – at Amazon

 

 

The Colony (E One, cert 18, DVD)

Who does not love Laurence Fishburne? Morpheus himself dignifies this post-apocalyptic survival thriller that actually stars Kevin Zegers. Playing the wise, rumbling leader of a snowbound colony in a world destroyed by humanity’s foolish fiddling with nature, Fishburne is a reassuring guide through the first half of this movie, the bit where it looks like it’s going to be a reworking of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The good bit. Then, Fishburne, Kevin Zegers, titular star on account of Zac Efron-y looks, and a bunch of guys in what might as well be Star Trek red shirts head off to another colony where… I’ll leave the plot there. But I will warn you that things take a dive, and the film slips from being a tense thriller set in a well conceived dystopia to something more akin to an action movie, except director Jeff Renfroe apparently can’t direct action. But never mind, because Renfroe and co-writers slip a gear again, switching genres into something more like a zombie movie. And then again into torture porn, possibly having talked themselves into believing that they’re “confounding genre expectations”, when a wiser head (ie mine) would have told them to stick with the good stuff early on.

The Colony – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 
  
All titles out in the UK week commencing 20 January 2014