21 January 2013-01-21

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 Out in the UK this week




American Mary (Universal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

On their way to crafting a true horror classic the rather weird Soska twins (of Dead Hooker in a Trunk fame) come up with a cracking revenger almost as surgically nasty as The Human Centipede, as gleefully over the top as Dario Argento in his pomp, with hints of 1940s noir and even a bit of Dr Phibes (or was I imagining that?). Front and centre is a great performance by Katharine Isabelle as a sexy-as-hell, cool-as-death med student out for payback. Trash hounds and body modders (they feature in the plot too) will watch this till it wears out.

American Mary – at Amazon


From the Sea to the Land Beyond (BFI, cert 12, DVD)

The much undervalued Penny Woolcock (we won’t mention “black yout” disaster 1 Day) has raided the BFI archives and collaged together a portrait of Britain as it works, rests and plays by the seaside from earliest existing footage up to today. And how optimistic, hard-working, technologically advanced, outward looking and happy she makes the Britain of the past look. This rather clever holding-up of the historical mirror does suggest that Woolcock has a less than flattering opinion of the country today, that’s if you want to see this film as a “state of the nation” address. If not, this is still a great example of a current trend for documentary exhumation of the past in collage form (Julien Temple’s London: The Modern Babylon springs to mind). The jaunty soundtrack is by (of course) British Sea Power.

From the Sea to the Land Beyond – at Amazon


The Sweeney (Entertainment One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Brit director Nick Love courts Hollywood with lots of Michael Mann-style overheads of London’s Docklands in this filmic reworking of the gritty 1970s TV series about serious crime unit the Flying Squad (the title being rhyming slang). Homage is paid to the salty script of the original – “Put your trousers on, you’re nicked” – but the plot hasn’t got past the back-of-a-fag-packet stage and there are all sorts of loose ends flapping in the breeze. And wasn’t the original about a gruff, tough but supremely honest copper and his relationship with his laddish sidekick? This is more about Ray Winstone (fun) and his sexy bit on the side Hayley Atwell (excellent), leaving poor Ben Drew with little to do.

The Sweeney – at Amazon


Now Is Good (Warner, cert 12, DVD)

A 21st century Love Story, with Dakota Fanning as a London girl (London now being magically situated next to the sea) with leukaemia striking up a shivering romance with hunk-next-door Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). And like Love Story, terminal illness is ever so fragrant and part of the female condition. But never mind that, there’s Fanning’s attempt to get the Brit accent right, her concentration so intense that she gets just about everything else wrong. Some lump in throat moments though, largely courtesy of Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams.

Now Is Good – at Amazon


The Campaign (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Will Ferrell does his George W thing in this toothless comedy about a bumptious Republican (Ferrell) being challenged for high office by a camp dimwit big-business placeman (Zach Galifianakis). Not sure whether it’s a satire or a series of knockabout goof-offs, The Campaign does land a few comedic punches before its – wouldn’t you know it – redemptive finish.

The Campaign – at Amazon


Keyhole (Soda, cert 18, DVD)

Oddity of the week has all the hallmarks of an artschool project, a wilfully wacky mash-up of Key Largo, Eraserhead and the Odyssey (as in Homer), with Jason Patric (actually rather good here, Speed 2 was a long time ago) playing a gangster character called Ulysses waiting for a police raid in a house filled with odd shit. Only tangentially appearing in this beautifully shot monochrome madhouse are Isabella Rossellini, director Guy Maddin’s muse, and Udo Kier. And where Kier goes, odd cannot be far behind, hence penises protruding from walls, amputees, an old man tethered to a chain like a dog and so on. Guy Maddin is 56.

Keyhole – at Amazon


Django (Argent, cert 15, Blu-ray)

The 1966 film that inspired Tarantino’s Django Unchained (and the ear-slicing scene from Reservoir Dogs, it would seem) is more than just a Fistful of Sergio Leone knock-off, it’s got a gnarly plot, down and dirty looks, a top notch cast headed by Clint lookalike Franco Nero and the sort of twangy spaghetti western soundtrack that should come with meatballs.

Django – at Amazon


© Steve Morrissey 2013




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“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