26 August 2013-08-26

Something in the Air

Out in the UK this week



Something in the Air (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

If you’ve got any interest at all in how the revolutionary moment of 1968 spawned the postmodern (ie conservative) era that followed it, Olivier Assayas’s brilliant, period-distilling drama is for you. Following a wannabe artist from the revolutionary barricades of Paris, when it was required that all personal preferences came with political justification, through the long intellectual wrangles, splits, and factionalising of what was once called the Left, we follow a young man and woman on a journey that takes them from letting it all hang out to getting a decent job and knuckling down (or not). Musically it’s a journey from The Incredible String Band to glam rock, with the soundtrack every bit as spot on as the political posturing, the clothes, the attitudes to sex and the whole damn thing. Assayas was 18 in 1971, though even before I looked that up I knew he had to have been there, smoked that, to have produced something this immersive, this appreciative of both the excesses and triumphs of a bygone age of unusual freedom.

Something in the Air – at Amazon



A Hijacking (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Films that split their narrative usually have a hard time of it but A Hijacking succeeds brilliantly. Featuring faces familiar from TV shows Borgen and The Killing, it’s about a Norwegian ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and once the pirates are on board, the drama follows two distinct tracks. Out at sea are the guys sweating it out (and the pirates do look genuinely scary – all wild-eyed and juiced on khat). Meanwhile back at base in Norway the negotiators are trying to extract the maximum number of men for the minimum amount of cash. These negotiations are what give it its power, that and the contrast between the cool, wire frames and grey heads at head office and the bearded, dirty and desperate men on board ship.

A Hijacking – at Amazon


Rebellion (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Mathieu Kassovitz is back in France, after a less than stellar time in Hollywood, with his first decent film since 1995’s La Haine, an intelligent, politically nuanced drama about a kick-ass team of hardened army specialists sent in to a far-flung French outpost to sort out a nasty kidnap situation. It’s a war film without the war, audaciously, a film with a lot of exposition that just about gets away with it, thanks to the attractive New Caledonia settings (Tahiti, actually), director Kassovitz’s urgent sense of pace plus lush cinematography and a percussive soundtrack that helps weld everything into a whole. A bit long, a touch schematic? Yes, but there’s more than enough to compensate.

Rebellion – at Amazon



Simon Killer (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

After Afterschool Antonio Campos’s edgy disaffected high school drama, we have Simon Killer, an edgy disaffected thriller set in night-time Paris and featuring an excellent performance by Brady Corbet as an immature braggart falling into a relationship with a beautiful prostitute (Mati Diop). He’s a killer, the title has told us that. But who’s he going to kill? That’s the focus of Campos’s extended tease, whose painful introspection matches that of the character of Simon himself.

Simon Killer – at Amazon



Extraction (Signature, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Fans of Inception will most likely enjoy writer/director Nir Paniry’s knock-off version, the filmic equivalent of a track suit you buy on a street market. It’s serviceable, fits pretty ok, but it’s fairly shabbily made – acting and directing both leave a bit to be desired. However Paniri does understand what shape the film should be, is a half-decent writer and his plot – scientist is injected into a criminal’s mind – has plenty going for it, throws the odd left hand turn and even manages to strike what you might call the Philip K Dick Total Recall pose in its discussion of a human being the sum of his memories, or not.

Extraction aka Extracted – at Amazon



Olympus Has Fallen (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Ambling back towards form, though very slowly, director Antoine Fuqua is off his Training Day pace but knows how to keep things moving in this actioner that’s been called “Die Hard in the White House”. Gerard Butler is the Bruce Willis surrogate, a busted spook who alone can save the US president after the North Koreans invade the White House (I believe that original it was the Chinese who invaded, until someone pointed out that the Chinese now buy films like this). Fuqua stages a good tight opening, follows up with impressive scenes of attack and destruction with much in the way of facial disfigurement, blood and yowling. And then Butler arrives to save POTUS, to the sound of Wagnerian horns, the banging door, the ascending and descending pentatonics. Does he do it? What do you think? Though I wished for every second of the film that Bruce Willis were doing it. Or Jason Statham. Anyone with a hint of irony in their facial make-up. A hint of anything.

Olympus Has Fallen – at Amazon



The Land of Hope (Third Window, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A much straighter drama from Sion Sono than we’re normally used to, a companion piece to his Himizu, I suppose, following three couples in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown of 2011. Conformity and individualism are what’s under analysis as much as post-tsunami society – with those on the side of obeying the government, going along with the majority view, constantly being presented as the problem, not the solution. Dumb animals, a woman with dementia, a too-timid husband to a properly fearful pregnant wife – these are the metaphorical carriers of Sion Sono’s heavy-handed message, orchestrated to snatches of Mahler, the odd shot reminiscent of Ozu, not at all what you’d expect from an auteur most associated with his feverish Hate Trilogy. By the end things have sneaked back a bit towards what you do expect – overheated melodrama. But all in all The Land of Hope is a reminder of what a fluid, emotionally connected film-maker Sono is.

The Land of Hope – at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2013





Simon Killer


London Film Festival, 2012-10-20 

Giving a film’s plot away in its title: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did it. So, with a lot less fuss, did Snakes on a Plane. Here we have Simon Killer, about a guy called Simon, who’s a Killer. It’s a good thing we know this early on, because without the sense of “when’s he going to do it, and who’s he going to do it to?” Antonio Campos’s introspective follow-up to the nervy, pervy Afterschool might just die of a tension deficit disorder.

We’re in the sort of Paris that Americans with a Hemingway bent still hanker after – of cafes and night-time and fun, of bordellos staffed by pretty young things, not a pimp to be seen, everything’s warm, bohemian, nice. Into this milieu drops our hero, an “a-hero” in fact, an affectless lump of passivity, a premature ejaculator and mother’s boy who is mentally composing and recomposing the smackdown letter to the girl who recently dumped him, hoping to deliver a stiletto sleeved in “missing you so much” language.

He meets some girls, they give him a cool reception – partly because he doesn’t speak French too well; partly because he’s creepy. He ends up in a red-light bar, where he meets a pretty young woman. Before you can say “needy” he’s talked his way into staying at her place, and their relationship goes from being hooker and client to something resembling boyfriend and girlfriend. Meanwhile, unlovely Simon is now on the sniff after another girl, one whom he also charms, and also borrows money off, because being broke is another of Simon’s charmless attributes.

Campos shows his mettle in these opening introductions to Simon’s seedy existence, as does Brady Corbet, whose performance is the sort you’d never get out of a star – there’s really nothing to admire in Simon at all, unless you like feckless spongers. As his hooker/girlfriend Mati Diop (you might remember her from Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum) is possibly too gorgeous to be playing a low-rent sex worker but hers is also a performance of total commitment, by which I don’t just mean that she takes her clothes off a fair bit when she’s not plausibly shooting the improvisational breeze with Corbet.

So is Mati going to die? Or is it going to be the other girl? Or someone else entirely? As I said earlier, the title delivers the tension in this film, which does little to deliver it by other means. Simon Killer has lots to recommend it – the performances, the Kafka-esque slow reveal of Simon’s true nature, the claustrophobic Parisian atmosphere – but the film wanders off on plotlines that should simply be cut; it’s 15 minutes too long. For a character as slippery as Simon the windiness of The Assassination of Jesse James etc etc isn’t what you need, it’s a shorter, sharper Snakes on a Plane punch.

Simon Killer – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2012