The Best Films of 2014

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

 

Of the 350+ films I saw this year, these are the best ones. Some of them were released last year and I’ve been a bit slow getting round to them. Some of them were released even longer ago. The criteria are – I watched them in 2014 and I liked them. That’s it.

 

 

 

The Best

 

Computer Chess (2013, dir: Andrew Bujalski)

Andrew Bujalski, inventor of mumblecore, proved there’s life in the old beast yet with this retro-verité drama about geeks meeting in the 1980s to pit their programs against a chess-playing computer. Shooting on original video cameras in fuzzy-edged boxellated black and white, Bujalski catches the moment when the let-it-all-hang-out era died and our brighter, geekier world was born.

 

In a World… (2013, dir: Lake Bell)

A comedy of modern manners strung onto a plot about voice artists vying for the throne of the newly dead king of the hill. The savviest, screwballiest Hollywood comedy in years came from left-field, from writer/director/star Lake Bell, playing the daughter of a famous voiceover artist trying to get out from under dad’s reputation. It’s sentimental in all the right ways too.

 

The Canyons (2013, dir: Paul Schrader)

The sensational Lindsay Lohan’s “right, I’m back” movie is also Paul Schrader’s best for decades, a turning over of the paving slab to see what low-lifes slither about beneath. It’s The Canyons, not The Hills, so don’t expect Hollywood to come out smelling of anything but bad drugs, mercenary sex and broken dreams.

 

Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie)

Don’t watch if you can’t take the sight of gay male sex. If you can you get a remarkable French drama about a killer at large on a nudist beach where homosexual omerta guarantees him a free ride, in any way he fancies. It’s beautifully composed, dramatically as taut as you like and even the soundscape is a thing of wonder.

 

Under the Skin (2013, dir: Jonathan Glazer)

How odd that Scarlett Johansson suddenly cornered the female sci-fi market (with this, the Avengers movies, Her and Lucy). This is the best of the bunch, with ScarJo playing a killer (in every sense) alien who cruises round Glasgow, Scotland, enticing men into her white van and then taking them back to her lair. Shot painstakingly with real, unsuspecting Glaswegians picked up off the street playing the dupes, it’s a triumphant return to movies for writer/director Jonathan (Sexy Beast) Glazer.

 

Of Horses and Men (2013, dir: Benedikt Erlingsson)

There are scenes in this elemental Icelandic movie that you will never have seen before, some hilarious, others just jaw-droppingly wha? It’s a unique rural drama that seems to suggest that people are at their happiest and least stressed when they behave most like animals. Watch that young woman swish her tail when the visiting Spaniard shakes his mane. Brilliant.

 

Norte, The End of History (2013, dir: Lav Diaz)

A four hour epic shot in long continuous beautifully framed takes, about a rich young law student and the poor street-pedlar woman whose life he affects maximally without even realising what he’s done. Wait two hours for the first “what the hell just happened” moment, and then another 90 minutes for the second, while a new (to me) master Lav Diaz casts his spell.

 

 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, dir: Jim Jarmusch)

If you were going to cast the supercoolest vampire film ever, you’d want Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in it. And you’d want Jim Jarmusch to direct it, wouldn’t you? That’s exactly what you get with this aching paean to immortal hipsterism shot in crumbling Detroit and labyrinthine old Tangier. No one ever says “I feel so very very tired,” as they do in cornier movies, but that’s the spirit. Plus jokes, hipster jokes.

 

 

Goodbye to Language (2014, dir: Jean-Luc Godard)

At one level Jean-Luc Godard’s boy-meets-girl drama of collaged visual styles and overlapping dialogue looks like the result of using every preset on Final Cut Pro software; at another it’s a brilliant exercise in trying to reformulate film syntax. Genius.

 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, dir: Doug Liman)

Tom Cruise as a soldier repeatedly being killed, each time back to life a little bit tougher, sharper, wiser in Doug Liman’s sci-fi extravaganza that looks, feels, smells like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would have graced in the 1980s.

 

Welcome to New York (2014, dir: Abel Ferrara)

Abel Ferrara’s drama about/not about Dominic Strauss Khan and his sexual escapades in New York looks like it was shot entirely on one camera, stars Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset and suggests obliquely that the people who run the planet are sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

Honourable mentions

 

Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright
Gary Bond sinks a beer in Wake in Fright

 

Wake in Fright (1971, dir: Ted Kotcheff)

A restored 1971 Australian classic about a nice schoolteacher having a wild weekend of up-close Ocker masculinity out in the Outback of the Outback.

 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013, dir: Abdellatif Kechiche)

Lesbian sex was its big sell but it’s the acting that’s the thing in this slow (as in Slow Food slow) French drama about a young girl’s sentimental education.

 

Klown (2010, dir: Mikkel Nørgaard)

The Danes do comedy in this road movie about two inadequate blokes and a ten-year-old boy on a “tour de pussy”. Inappropriate comedy fans, this is for you.

 

All Is Lost (2013, dir: JC Chandor)

Robert Redford is all at sea on a sinking yacht in the virtually wordless thriller from JC Chandor, who made the banking business sexy with Margin Call and proves lightning does strike twice here.

 

Fossil (2014, dir: Alex Walker)

A British couple in trouble are befriended by a lovey-dovey twosome in this four-hander that looks good, hits a few deep notes and goes as badly whacked-out as outsider-couple dramas generally do.

 

Back to the Garden (2013, dir: Jon Sanders)

Really? A film set in Kent (the “Garden of England”) and made for nothing? Yes, and you won’t find a better recent film about confronting that moment when you realise your parents’ generation are dead and your lot are next.

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée)

Part of the McConaissance, with Matthew McC as the homo-hating cowpuncher who discovers he’s HIV+ and breaks the law to fix himself. A brilliant exercise in Hollywood storytelling economy.

 

The Past (2013, dir: Asghar Farhadi)

Asghar Farhadi casts The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo as the woman about to marry for the third time, to a man with a wife in coma. How the wife ended up in the coma is what this subversive, complexly plotted drama is all about.

 

The Lunchbox (2013, dir: Ritesh Batra)

A Mumbai desk jockey gets the wrong lunchbox at work and starts up a relationship with the neglected wife who prepared it. Life-changes all round in this lovely romance made with a very light touch.

 

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (2013, dir: Danis Tanovic)

A dirt-poor Roma man tries to get medical help for his pregnant wife in this immensely sweet drama that comes with this seal of authenticity – it really happened, and to this lovely couple.

 

The Lego Movie (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The incredibly smart Lego people got Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 Jump Street to script/direct their movie, a fast-moving Star Wars-y affair with Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell its standout voices. Four viewings necessary.

 

Starred Up (2013, dir: David Mackenzie)

The best British jail drama since Scum, all those years ago, with a starry turn by Jack O’Connell as the new lag running into all the usual bad stuff inside. Spectacular.

 

Locke (2013, dir: Steven Knight)

Tom Hardy sitting inside a car for 90 minutes and making phone calls. That’s all there is to this super-high-concept drama that screws more tension out of the situation than you could imagine possible.

 

Blue Ruin (2013, dir: Jeremy Saulnier)

A hillbilly milquetoast is forced into an unlikely revenge-driven killing spree in a drama that grips from the first second and holds you there till the grisly end.

 

The Counselor (2013, dir: Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy’s loquacious drama about a high-flying lawyer who hasn’t realised he’s swimming with the sharks (Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt). A sleek, ratchet-like thriller of pitiless inevitability.

 

Sofia’s Last Ambulance (2012, dir: Ilian Metev)

So simple, so effective, a documentary that follows a Bulgarian ambulance team and focuses entirely on them, never the people they’re treating. Tight, unusual, very humane.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, dir: Bryan Singer)

The best of the X-Men movies gains a position in this list because of director Bryan Singer’s sheer ability to keep so many stories, characters and settings constantly in play. And his observation that the 1970s might as well now be an alien universe is interesting too.

 

 

 

 

The Underrated

 

Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor
Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris in Kelly + Victor

 

Kelly + Victor (2012, dir: Kieran Evans)

A nice lad falls for a totally fucked up girl in this brilliantly acted, nicely observed Liverpool drama about a boy, a girl and a lot of bondage gear. No “ferry across the fucking Mersey” (the director’s words) visible. Hoo-fucking-ray.

 

Seduced and Abandoned (2013, dir: James Toback)

An exquisite and slyly clever documentary that’s not really a documentary at all, about old mates Alec Baldwin and James Toback talking to the movie world’s money men at Cannes. Fascinating, proper inside-Hollywood reveals.

 

Bad Grandpa (2013, dir: Jeff Tremaine)

Johnny Knoxville deserves the Sacha Baron Cohen award for bravery for the audacious stunts he pulls off as the titular grandpa, and Jackson Nicoll – what, 10-years-old maybe? – even more for his turn as the grandson. Yes, it’s a Jackass movie and that ship has sailed, but it’s also a very funny, one-of-a-kind affair.

 

Metro Manila (2013, dir: Sean Ellis)

A poor Filipino family moves to the big bad city and what looks like a drama about the innocent getting monstered turns into one of the best heist films of the year. Brilliantly made, brilliantly acted.

 

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012, dir: Colin Trevorrow)

Aubrey Plaza, one of those girls who can go from hot to not in the blink of an acting eye, dominates this no-budget smartly written mumblecore sci-fi about a rookie journalist chasing down a pudgy middle age guy who claims to have built a time machine. Fabulous.

 

Oldboy (2013, dir: Spike Lee)

Hated because a) it’s not as good as the original and b) people like to kick Spike Lee, who proves here he’s an intelligent, accomplished gun for hire, while Josh Brolin excels as the asshole incarcerated by person(s) unknown for 20 years and now wanting payback.

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013, dir: Ben Stiller)

Ben Stiller’s brilliantly crafted reworking of the story that Danny Kaye made a hit film with in 1947 – about a geek whose rich fantasy life starts to invade his real one – is too unclassifiable to hit the “best of” lists.

 

8 Minutes Idle (2012, dir: Mark Simon Hewis)

A simple British comedy about a Bristol call centre that’s clearly been written by someone who’s worked in one – the cameraderie of the drones is palpable, their maddened boredom too. And star Tom Hughes is great as a post-Uni slacker working out what to do next.

 

The Monuments Men (2014, dir: George Clooney)

OK, so it’s not a Tarantino movie. But George Clooney’s amiable comedy about a crack team saving art before the Nazis destroy it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be Von Ryan’s Express/Hogan Heroes reimagined. Job very much achieved.

 

The Invisible Woman (2013, dir: Ralph Fiennes)

Felicity Jones is surely going to get an Oscar one day, but this film actually belongs to Ralph Fiennes (who also directs) playing her lover, Charles Dickens, as the world’s first media celeb. It’s a sweet film about love, in the end, with intelligent digressions.

 

Felony (2013, dir: Matthew Saville)

A gritty Oz cop melodrama written by its star, Joel Edgerton, the supercop who fucks up one night and spends the rest of the film getting further and further in the shit as he tries to wriggle free. Tom Wilkinson contributes another of his sneakily intelligent peformances as Edgerton’s superior.

 

All This Mayhem (2014, dir: Eddie Martin)

If you’ve never heard of the Pappas brothers, Ben and Tas, this excellent and shocking documentary about their 1990s rise and fall is well worth the ride, even if you’ve no interest whatsoever in skateboarding.

 

God Help the Girl (2014, dir: Stuart Murdoch)

A strangely 1960s-ish and intensely cute love letter by Belle and Sebastian frontman/director Stuart Murdoch to his star, Emily Browning, here fetishised in a boy-meets-girl Scottish musical recalling – if you’re fanciful – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

 

Chef (2014, dir: Jon Favreau)

Jon Favreau is one of the great under-revered directors of our era, and Chef – a road movie about a celebrity chef getting his mojo back – is exactly the sort of easy-looking, effortlessly digestible charmer he seems to be able to knock out at will.

 

Mystery Road (2013, dir: Ivan Sen)

An Aborigine cop tries to find out who killed an Aborigine girl – with stone-faced resistance from his white co-workers – in a beautifully shot Down Under cowboy thriller with one of the best shootout finales ever committed to film.

 

The Congress (2013, dir: Ari Folman)

Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman pushes animation even further this time, with a psychedelic meditation on fantasy and reality starring Robin Wright as an actress who is digitised and inserted into any set-up the imagineers fancy. Highly highly unusual.

 

 

 

The Overrated

 

Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

 

Prince Avalanche (2013, dir: David Gordon Green)

Two guys paint a road and David Gordon Green swerves back into George Washington territory in a film that’s Waiting for Godot with Girl Trouble. Tim Orr’s camera is lovely, 1970s and sun-dappled, but there’s a hole where the meaning should be.

 

Blue Jasmine (2013, dir: Woody Allen)

Another of Woody Allen’s overhyped “returns to form”, this time featuring a relentlessly over-acting Cate Blanchett as a super-entitled bitch whose ship has sailed. Watch instead Sally Hawkins.

 

Thor: The Dark World (2013, dir: Alan Taylor)

Everything that’s wrong with bad superhero films in one film – too many characters, too much gobbledegook, a lack of humour, though Tom Hiddleston’s Loki remains a fun watch. More to come (sigh).

 

The Butler (2013, dir: Lee Daniels)

Lee Daniels’s epic about the black butler (Forest Whitaker) to a whole bunch of POTUSes attempts to square the radical tradition with the gradualist conservative move towards black civil rights. Proficient, nothing more.

 

Saving Mr Banks (2013, dir: John Lee Hancock)

How Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) strongarmed PL Travers (Emma Thompson) into letting him film her Mary Poppins. The leads are genuinely fabulous and brilliant, but all that Travers backstory? Really?

 

Frozen (2013, dir: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

On my own here, I know, a triumph for lovers of adenoidal singing of the sort of Broadway songs that Eric Idle spoofed so brilliantly with his Song That Goes Like This. The snowman and reindeer are funny but the central characters, what utter drips.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir: Wes Anderson)

It still hasn’t sunk into Wes Anderson’s head that a) a little whimsy goes a long way and b) it has to be in the service of something, if only a good story. Here, though Ralph Fiennes is joyously funny as a devious owner of an old Mitteleuropean hotel, as a film it’s Sachertorte with cream, then more cream.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, dir: Marc Webb)

Marc Webb’s second pop at Spider-Man is immeasurably worse than the first, fails to weld live-action into increasingly cartoonish set-ups, has too many villains, and feels like little more than a franchise placeholder or a sop to fanboys who will buy any old crap.

 

22 Jump Street (2014, dir: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller)

The jokes were all done in 21 Jump Street – and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s extensive running gag in the closing credits, in which they trail the franchise’s development all the way to 34 Jump Street: Return of the Ghost – shows they know it. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum remain a hot combo though.

 

And if you want to watch or buy any of the films, this Amazon link will allow you to do just that – enjoy!

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

 

Oldboy

Josh Brolin in Oldboy

 

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

 

 

29 June

 

iPhone launched, 2007

On this day in 2007, Apple launched the first version of the iPhone. Until then, mobile or cell phones had been phones first, with a range of other capabilities – camera, email, mp3 player, internet access – tagging along behind. Apple’s creative breakthrough was to design the iPhone as a very small computer which also had phone functionality. This might look like a “six and two threes” explanation but what the iPhone did, which no phone had done before, was deliver a more integrated service, so the phone became in effect a Swiss army knife of the digital era: a mobile office with added leisure features which meant you could leave the house and work out where you were going, who you were meeting, how to get there and what you needed to know, all of this while en route, listening to Lana Del Rey as you went. The phone was an instant success and continued Apple’s return from the dead which had been signalled by the iMac, was continued by the iPod/iTunes, and finally completed by the iPhone. In fact the iPhone has become the tail that wags the dog, the operating system of Apple’s computers now looking like, and functioning like, the OS on the phone. To call the iPhone a success is to severely under-estimate what it has done – not only putting the two world leaders, Nokia and Blackberry, onto the critical list (Nokia phones sold off to Microsoft in 2013, Blackberry worth $82.4bn in 2008, $3.4bn at end 2013), but also creating the benchmark by which all other phones are judged, as well as the template for rivals (eg Android) to copy. When I say “copy”, I obviously mean “aspire towards”.

 

 

 

Oldboy (2013, dir: Spike Lee)

What a strangely negative reception Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 original, manga-based thriller got. A classic case of reviewers assessing a film for what it’s not, rather than what it is, Lee’s film certainly is not as powerful as the original – not as gothically badass in any direction – but it’s still a very good, expertly delivered, well told and periodically thrilling story that’s well worth your groats, shekels or dollars. The story – if you don’t know it from the original – is the same: a total asshole (here played by Josh Brolin) is imprisoned in one small room for 20 years. He has no idea why. He’s in solitary. Is fed, watered, taken care of, has TV access, but otherwise it’s him, the four walls and that’s it. And then, suddenly, he’s free again. And being a badass kinda guy, he heads off on a revenge jag to find the guy who imprisoned him, not for one second pausing to ask a simple question – is this sudden release all part of some wider, dastardly plan aimed specifically at punishing me further?
It is, of course, and it’s this tease of a plot that gives the film its dramatic drive. Helping it along are all manner of powerful little nuggets. Like that classic “fight in a very small space” sequence from the original. Lee chooses to reference it rather than recreate it – he’s smart, and knows that the original has been re-purposed so many times since the film debuted in 2003 that its original impact just isn’t there any more. Talking of impact, the hammer fight – I’ll just say “yes!”, with an extra exclamation mark! Modern brutalist gothic is Lee’s intention, and the cast stays on message – Samuel L Jackson in a kilt (again) and looking like some mad medieval pope, Sharlto Copley over-enunciating very amusingly as the extremely bad man whom Brolin (raw, animal, intense) eventually comes across, Elizabeth Olsen as the wafty wavery love interest who’s not what she appears. And notice that silent Chinese woman acting as Copley’s concubine (anyone know her name?), a racial stereotype lifted straight out of a penny dreadful or shilling shocker – or early James Bond films.
And on the subject of pastiche, it is often overlooked – because Spike Lee is so well known for his message films – just how in control he is as a journeyman director. And he is definitely giving us touches of Bond in among the other thriller references. Hitchcock too in his beautifully staged set pieces. As for the frequent use of the iPhone, which repeatedly bemuses the technically prehistoric Brolin – Satnav? Yellow Pages? A camera? – though it’s clearly a product placement buy-in (Apple possibly responding to Google’s slightly backfiring free ad of a film The Internship) it does at least locate us in the here and now, and confirms Brolin as the film’s ignorant underdog hero. Something the film does need, because it’s never that clear. No, it’s not as pure as the original, but Lee’s Oldboy is still a tense and intense thriller.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Who better than Josh Brolin to play a vengeful badass?
  • Copley’s excellent villain
  • The clothes (costumes: Ruth E Carter) really match the film’s mood
  • Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave)

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Oldboy – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

7 April 2014-04-07

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

 

Out in the UK This Week

 

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

One book, three films – there’s something almost Tolkienesque in that phrase, don’t you think? Against expectation I enjoyed the first instalment of The Hobbit, even though every fibre of my being had been rebelling against the idea of Peter Jackson turning a slim book into three long movies. I can’t say the same for part two, which follows Bilbo and the dwarves on their quest to reclaim Erebor, their kingdom beneath the mountain, which is an exercise in time-wasting until Smaug himself arrives. Every shot, every scene is padded, even the most inconsequential locale getting its own establishing shot, ostensibly to establish it as a space where high drama is to be played out but in fact just to tick away a few more seconds. The music is loud and insistent and has also been designed to convince us that what we’re watching is thrilling, though nothing can make dwarves floating slowly down the river in barrels exciting. Another irritant is the amount of “Gwingwin yeugh na gwingwi” chat by orcs and elves and whatnot. The CG is, frankly, sub-standard, and Jackson relies far too heavily on it – but then that is a criticism of his entire Tolkien output and is probably the main reason why the films are not going to age well. It’s not all bad though. After an hour of poncing about, the film does actually get going as Gandalf takes on Sauron in a fight. Meanwhile, below the big mountain, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, continuing to be an engaging turnip) takes on Smaug the giant dragon, puts the ring on and takes it off again, on, off, on, off, while the dragon slithers around in the vast heap of treasure it has accumulated. It’s all quite thrilling and good fun and is a reminder that the strength of the original book was to mix the scale of the epic with the agility of the fairytale. A fact Jackson and team have almost entirely forgotten.

The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug – at Amazon

 

 

 

Oldboy (Universal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

The original Old Boy, directed by Park Chan-wook in 2003, is a brillant revenge thriller of rococo madness much loved by those who’ve seen it. And if you haven’t, you should. This Spike Lee remake has come in for a bit of a bashing for one reason or another. Much of it, I suspect, by people who simply want to demonstrate that they are familiar with the original. There’s a bit of oneupmanship going on, in other words. Because Lee’s version really isn’t bad at all. Sticking pretty close to the original story, we follow our “hero”, a fuck-up on a royal scale, as he is kept in solitary confinement for 20 years by person or persons unknown. On his release, off he goes to take revenge on whoever did it to him, never really wondering why it happened in the first place, or what his jailer’s ultimate intention was. Josh Brolin is a brilliant ball of anger as our main man – at first an asshole, later the implacable foe – Sharlto Copley plays the devilishly bad villain, using an accent that even a Bond villain would find a touch over the top. And there’s Samuel L Jackson in there too, as another of Brolin’s enemies, dressed like some medieval punk pope and utilising the persona that Mr Tarantino helped create. Fans of the squid-eating scene in the original film will be disappointed with the remake, though there is an echo of the brutally choregraphed hammer-fight. And the product placement for Apple stuff (really, the ingenious things you can do with an iPhone) comes thick and fast too. Ultimately, it’s less pure, less conceptually driven, than the original, though Lee dredges everything with his usual good looks and reminds us he’s a really good thriller director, in case we’d forgotten he also made Inside Man.

Oldboy – at Amazon

 

 

 

Easy Money II: Hard to Kill (Icon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

The first Easy Money – aka Snabba Cash – came with a “Martin Scorsese Presents” endorsement and lived up to it entirely. It was fast, dirty, brilliantly shot and edited, and the cast, all unknown to me, completely fit the bill. The sequel, somewhat unexpectedly, is just as good. There’s less of a class element this time, our blond callow Swedish lad having learnt his lesson last time out that the only way you can become old money is by being born old money. Actually, he learns it one more time at the beginning of this film, when the computer trading program he has been working on in prison has been stolen by his “business partner”, an old money guy. This throws the baby-faced JW (Joel Kinnaman) back into bed with the motley ethnic crew we met in the first film – a Serbian, a Spaniard, a Lebanese – each cast because his facial features look like they were crafted on a lathe. What follows is an hour or so of familiar gangs-guns-drugs storyline spiced with delicious cross and double-cross, new director Babak Najafi keeping the pace up while cinematographer Aril Wretblad and editor Theis Schmidt work some double-act magic – this really is a film to watch and admire technically as well as narratively. In fact it’s all good – cast, plot, technicians, the lot. Can’t wait for the next one.

Easy Money II: Hard to Kill – at Amazon

 

 

 

Sparks (Image, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Something of a curiosity, this adaptation of Christopher Folino’s graphic novel tells the story of a 1940s superhero and makes up in plot what it lacks in budget. And it really really has a plot – so convoluted that I’ll just tell you that Sparks falls in love with a woman with super powers, then loses her, then takes up with another woman with super powers who, to bed Sparks, takes on the form of the old girlfriend. Meanwhile, as a result of a toxic-spill accident, a man whose DNA is half crocodile… I could go on but the nub of it is Sparks’s love for Lady Heavenly, who believes that Sparks is a quitter and so not worthy of her. Chase Williamson and Ashley Bell make for a credible lead couple, even if Williamson isn’t that great an actor and his stubble doesn’t look convincingly 1940s. But what’s really unusual about the film – and will probably decide whether you give it the thumbs up – is how earnest it is. It delivers Chandleresque dialogue (“She was the kind of woman whose first name you instantly wanted to add to your last”), and a 1940s Dick Tracey-style score as if it had never been done before. There’s not a wink, not even a Superman half-wink. It’s Sin City done straight, in other words, and on a thousandth of the budget.

Sparks – at Amazon

 

 

 

The Summit (Metrodome, cert E, DVD)

On one day in August 2008 11 climbers died on the face of K2 as they were trying to get to the summit, or get back down from it. Nick Ryan’s documentary attempts a Touching the Void retelling of the story, mixing talking-head reminiscence with drama-documentary recreation. K2 is the world’s second highest mountain but much harder to climb, largely because of the vast overhanging glacier which can break off at any time, killing everyone below. On the day in question, thanks to prolonged bad weather, there were 15 teams of various nationalities waiting to head for the summit. The result was a bottleneck, some bad decision-making, some lost-in-translation panic reaction, real heroics, stupid gestures and a lot of dead people. Ryan uses a lot of original footage – the quality of even an iPhone video in 2008 means he’s got plenty to choose from – and he has access to the people who matter, both the survivors and the relatives of those who didn’t make it. I could have done without the historical angle which threads the story of legendary Italian climber Walter Bonatti through the documentary in an attempt to link the current controversy about whether some of the climbers acted bravely or foolishly to Bonatti’s 1954 ascent, which was also wreathed in dispute. Not because Bonatti’s story isn’t interesting, but because it adds nothing to the main thrust. And I could have done with less of the blame game being played by relatives and loved-ones who weren’t there and who hadn’t made the climber’s basic contract with fate. That, too, adds nothing.

The Summit – at Amazon

 

 

 

Teenage (Soda, cert E, DVD/VOD)

Because of his definitive book on punk, England’s Dreaming, the writer/academic Jon Savage has always been associated with the late 1970s. The joy of Teenage, the film about a later book, Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, is that it winds further back in time, away from that over-patrolled era, to 1904, when legislation was first brought in to restrict the use of children in British factories. Until then working people were seen as children until the age of 12, but became adults as soon as they entered the factory gate. It’s in the space opened up by the law that the idea of the teenager took root. This film covers its first flush, from that definitive time in 1904 to its attainment of self-awareness in 1945. But I’m making it sound boring, when in fact this film – whose archive footage should win its researchers all the awards going – bounces along to a soundtrack mixing music of the era with a kind of electronic boogie, while voiceover (Ben Whishaw for the UK youth, Jena Malone for the American, Julia Hummer for the German) helps make it a more international affair – the styles and music from America being crucial, then as now. The inclusion of a German voice is interesting, especially when it’s remembered how teenage ideals of health, youth and freedom played into the Nazi ideology. It helps to remind us that, though the film is pretty much a youth fanboy, the kids are not always alright.

Teenage – at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014