Out in the UK This Week
Lucy (Universal, cert 15)
Young innocent Lucy gains access to the full potential of her human brain in one of Luc Besson’s now infrequent bouts of directing. A kissing cousin of 1997’s The Fifth Element, it’s a fun and funky affair, helped enormously by the seven barrels of spunk that Scarlett Johansson injects into it. She plays the innocent abroad who is first forced into becoming a mule carrying a seriously mind-expanding drug for a seriously life-threatening gangster, and then an uberbeing when the drug gets into her bloodstream after she’s given a damn good kicking by a henchman for rejecting his sexytime overture. Well, that’s the last time anyone fucks with Lucy in what is basically a warp-speed revenge flick tricked out with a welter of sci-fi, some nice visual effects and the odd stylistic detour. Morgan Freeman, in another “god role”, is the brainiac prof who provides a handy expostitory guide to what is possible as more and more of Lucy’s brain becomes available to her, Freeman the Laurence Fishburne to ScarJo’s Keanu, and if there is any disappointment in this vastly engaging piece of entertainment, it’s that Besson can’t quite shake off his B movie churn-em-out ethos – a car chase, Luc? And those slo-mo balletic bullets were looking a bit tired when John Woo was doing them best back in the 1990s. To recap: fun, fast sci-fi that looks great, the cast clicks, yet just, you know, one stop short of magical.
Into the Storm (Warner, cert 12)
So if I tell you that this is a film about stormchasers and features tornados wreaking terrible havoc on midwest USA, with awesome special effects, you’re likely to tell me that this is a remake of Twister. Into the Storm probably doesn’t care if it is, but it covers its tracks well, dividing the action up between a disaster-movie series of potential victims – the professional stormchasers, the way-too-old for Jackass drunken japesters hoping for YouTube immortality, and a pair of high school brothers making a time capsule video for their stern, schoolteacher dad – yes, that dad, the one who’s been so darned hard on the boys ever since their mother passed. It’s that sort of film, the kind you build a drinking game around, and it is a lot of fun as long as you’re in the mood for dumb heroics. I dare say it won’t advance the careers of any of its competent cast – though Alycia Debnam Carey appears to be lifting her rack at any casting director who’s watching, so who knows – but its special effects team should definitely be working until they drop. The repeated tornado strikes deliver a stupendous amount of mayhem and carnage, from trees coming through plate glass windows roots first, to the sight of grounded airplanes being lifted into the air as if they were made of paper. Much better than a flying cow (that’s a reference for Twister fans).
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For (Lionsgate, cert 18)
The first Sin City got a lot of love from a lot of critics. Who, on realising much later on that, in fact, it was crap, came down hard on this follow-up. So some critics have been wrong about both films. Because, if you’re following my logic, Sin City 2 is a better film than the first one, for two reasons: first, it focuses on one main story, that of Josh Brolin and Eva Green, he the pussy-chasing dupe taken for a protracted and repeated ride by Eva Green, who obligingly takes her clothes off so we can see exactly what’s the cause of his woe. Whoaa! Anyway. Second, because Robert Rodriguez has clearly got the whip hand this time round, co-director Frank Miller providing the striking, almost entirely black and white film-noir/graphic-novel visuals, as before, while Rodriguez keeps the show moving along at a pace. The film’s problem is the same as in the first one: Jessica Alba table-dancing, Mickey Rourke growling, Bruce Willis smirking and Joseph Gordon-Levitt just standing there looking cool are as attractive as ever they are, but there is no mileage to be gained by aping or paying homage, if you will, to second-rate melodramatic material. And if it’s all meant to be funny, a comedy, where the hell are the jokes?
Nas: Time Is Illmatic (Dogwoof, cert E)
A documentary about Nas, the rapper who found an accommodation between the anger of the NWA/Public Enemy axis and the more Daisy Age noodlings of De La Soul 20 years ago when he released his iconic Illmatic album. It’s a trad talk-n-archive affair, with plenty of contribution from Nas and his rheumy-eyed brother Jabari aka Jungle. And it is an interesting story, not quite the “music saved me from gangsterism” thing, though perilously close. Nas does come from the New York projects but he is the son of a pro jazz musician and was raised in a bookish household by a mother determined for him to get on. It’s a genuinely entertaining and informative documentary about a fluid and uplifting wordsmith, especially if you’re a Nas ignoramus, as I was, though the insights into friends and family, life back in the hood where Nas seems totally at ease with the old homies, will probably make this worthwhile for fans too. And the sight of Nas being addressed as Professor Nas Jones at the inauguration of a hip-hop archive at Harvard University sends the whole thing out on a sweet high note.
Hockney (4DVD, cert 15)
A blond pop artist whose look is his brand, David Hockney could so easily have been the British Andy Warhol. That the label has never been stuck on him is probably for two strong reasons: unlike Warhol, Hockney has never been flippant about his work; unlike Warhol, he’s incredibly warm, chatty and engaging. This latter aspect has often obscured the former, to the point where it’s almost been forgotten that Hockney has devoted his life to looking at things and thinking about how he looks at things. “I’m interested in pictures, made in any way, and in the visible world.” This documentary biopic teeters close to being too much about the man and not enough about his work, and it really doesn’t feature much of Hockney at his most fascinating – when he’s talking about the visual arts at a theoretical level, of Picasso, or Ingres’s use of the camera lucida (nothing about this at all, in fact). But there is enough of the work – drawing and painting, iPhone and photograph, theatre sets and fax machines – to give us a grasp of what Hockney is about. And enough about his thought – his theories on the way human sight differs from the way a camera sees, for instance – to make this more than a celebrity dry hump. And the footage – here’s a man who has been followed by cameras from his breakthrough in the early 1960s to his long heyday from the late-1960s onwards – is really choice, whether it’s Hockney at home with his long-dead parents, cooling about on the West Coast in the 1970s, or painting trees in Yorkshire in the noughties. All in all a lovely portrait of a refreshingly unsnobbish artist who in his youth first rejected the fashion for abstraction and then the one for conceptualism and has been proved resoundingly right.
The Nut Job (Warner, cert U)
Ice Age meets any one of a thousand other anthropomorphic cute animal animations in this comedy about urban critters raiding a nut store because their own supplies won’t get them through the winter. They’re unaware, however, that a gang of human criminals are also in there, tunnelling towards a bank. This straightforward animals v humans plot is complicated by a story involving a bit of skulduggery and backstabbing among the animals, the same happening among the ranks of the robbers. Nothing a good script couldn’t tie together and make enjoyable. But there isn’t one. As for the voice talent, it’s sound enough, with Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl the big names, though it’s Maya Rudolph who actually makes the most impression as a dog more likely to slobber the invading animals to death than keep them at bay. It’s a US/South Korea collaboration that seems to have been some time in the pipeline – Gangnam Style, on the soundtrack and over the closing credits – and the Korean animators are head and shoulders above the American writers, the visuals often beautiful, colour co-ordinated, a vision of film noir as seen through a bright pastel palette with well detailed backgrounds. Shame the whole thing is so dull.
Intolerance (Eureka, cert PG)
The Blu-ray debut of DW Griffith’s self-consciously epic three-hour marathon about human frailty down the ages. And it’s immediately obvious from the massive swings in image quality that some of the film is shot to shit, though the restoration – this is the 1989 Thames Silents version further restored in 2013 – has caught a lot of the magnificence of the original 1916 production. And it is hellishly magnificent, a deliberate attempt to knock the socks off audiences, which Griffith did by telling four interwoven stories of intolerance down the centuries, from Jesus Christ’s run-ins with the Pharisees en route to Calvary, the Babylonians on the way to defeat at the end of a Persian sword, the massacre of Huguenots in France in 1572 and the devastating effect of puritan busybodydom on a family in modern America. Enhanced by Carl Davis’s unobtrusively atmospheric score, it’s the Cloud Atlas of the silent era in many respects. Of the four eras, the Babylonian is the most stupendous – the sets are still off-the-scale awesome – and the modern one, with its murder, attempted rape and race-against-time finish the most dramatic, Griffith showing that he knew a thing or two about editing together a film to convey urgency, though his camera was static almost entirely throughout. Made when film language was yet to be formalised, it’s an important film but also a self-important one, one of the links that connect those early pioneers up with the likes of Michael Bay.
© Steve Morrissey 2014