13 October 2014-10-13

Viktor Bout awaiting trial in The Notorious Viktor Bout

Home Entertainment Out in the UK This Week

 

 

Kidnapped (cert 18, DVD/digital)

From Spaniard Miguel Angel Vivas a home invasion horror which understands that for the film to work we have to be entirely on the side of the invaded. And also, that we have to feel their shock, disorientation and fear. He achieves both brilliantly in this brutal, relatively short film that takes place over one evening and does a lot with long takes, then switches pace with some excellent split-screen, up-close points of view. It’s the standard family – mum, dad, whingey teenage girl and, eventually, her boyfriend. But it’s far from a standard film. Where Vivas came from, I don’t know – the IMBD shows him puttering along for about the past 15 years – but on this evidence he’s going to go somewhere, though the relentless nastiness and refusal to apply any moral resolution is bound to lose a few along the way.

Kidnapped – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

Moebius (cert 18, DVD/digital)

Here’s a film that starts with a mother trying to cut off her husband’s cock, failing, and then cutting off her teenage son’s instead. Welcome back Kim Ki-duk, whose film-making faltered in the wake of Dream (an actress nearly died, which led to his masturbatory, unwatchable mea culpa Arirang). But he lost none of the visual flair and love of violence that’s been a hallmark of his films at least since The Isle in 2000. Here he’s on another formal experiment, making a film without words – a True Stories graphic comic without the speech bubbles seems to be the aim. And so Kim necessarily reaches for ideas and themes which we will all readily understand – sex, violence and the place where those two meet. You might not make it to the end – the relentless round of cockings, cuttings, rapes, frotterism and taboo-busting sex (chaps, don’t watch it with your mother) does get a bit wearying. But you’ve got to admire Kim’s style, his choice of mythic “needs no explanation at all” scenes and then ask yourself – which is what the film is really about, I reckon – why it is they need no explanation.

Moebius – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

Sofia’s Last Ambulance (cert E, DVD)

On first sight a documentary about a three-man ambulance crew driving around the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, and fixing up people who’ve drunk too much, done too much smack, had a stroke, broken a leg, and so on, doesn’t sound so very gripping. But on watching, it becomes clear why Ilian Metev’s film has been picking up awards at the festivals. It’s because it adopts a formal style and sticks to it. The style being a perplexing one, on the surface – to concentrate only on the ambulance crew, not the people they’re helping. In fact we never see anyone apart from this trio, which throws our focus onto the face of Krassimir the impassive and thoughtful doctor, Mila the sociable nurse and Plamen the good-natured driver. We read their job through their expressions, how tired they look, how pissed off, how desperate for the shift to end, how exasperated when dealing with the self-deluding heroin injector, or the drunk who won’t stay lying down. But, through it all, how united they are in their mission. Apparently there are only 13 ambulances in Sofia for 1.5 million people – though don’t come to this doc expecting facts or exposition, there is none, just our three noble jobbing life-savers. Intensely human, highly fascinating.

Sofia’s Last Ambulance – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Other Woman (cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

The Other Woman is a comedy about a sweet, naive married woman (Leslie Mann) who discovers that her ratbag husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is seeing someone else. Except that the film is seen from the viewpoint of that sassy cynical someone else, and she’s played by Cameron Diaz. But instead of the ladies going at each other, they bond (eventually) after discovering that each has been duped. Then bond even more when they discover that there’s another, younger, hotter other “other woman” (Kate Upton). There are barf-y Bridesmaid-lite gags and jokes about getting revenge by hitting the scumbag male with laxatives and hair remover and worse. But mostly this is all about the bonding, which gives this film a duvet day element – it’s directed by Nick Cassavetes who has been ploughing the girltastic furrow since The Notebook. But it’s overstocked with characters – surely Kate Upton, lovely though she is, is one other woman too many (and only necessary, the cynic in me suggests, because Diaz is too old for what should be a younger woman role) –  and the brilliant Nicki Minaj, as Diaz’s secretary, really needs a comedy all of her own to accommodate her Mae West figure, outfits and spitfire one-liners.

The Other Woman – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

Camille Claudel 1915 (cert PG, DVD)

You know when you’ve seen enough of someone’s suffering mush and you start to brace yourself when yet another of their emotionally torrid films comes along? – Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon spring to mind. I’ve added Juliette Binoche to that list, sadly, after one too many misery-memoirs. Camille Claudel 1915 being the latest in a line of worthies, this one being about the mistress of the sculptor Rodin and how she was banged up in an insane asylum because either a) she had a breakdown or b) Rodin got tired of her or c) her family wanted her money or d) her jealous fellow artists wanted her sketchpads. The film never quite decides which of these it is, though Binoche plays Claudel as a damaged spirit who looks like she might be a royal pain in the ass to live with. Meanwhile director Bruno Dumont makes questionable set-dressing decisions in a production that too often looks like an interior decorators’ catalogue in the Martha Stewart vein – that austere colour palette, those long, flag-paved corridors, those rooms sparsely furnished in a “make it look Van Gogh” style. The corridors do seem to be teaming with what look like genuine imbeciles though – the mentally ill and the mentally subnormal being lumped together in those days – but it surely wasn’t the film’s intention to impress us with its attention to gurning. However, as arthouse incarceration horror, you might just give Camille Claudel 1915 a pass.

Camille Claudel 1915 – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

The Notorious Mr Bout (cert 12, DVD/digital)

It’s pronounced “Boot”, in the Russian way, this documentary being about the genial Viktor Bout, the arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage in the film Lord of War. Except that with Lord of War we were left in no doubt that this opportunist who came of age as the Iron Curtain came down was in fact an illegal arms dealer. Here it’s slightly more equivocal. Bout was certainly operating out of all the world’s martial hotspots, thanks to an early introduction to the joys of the warzone after being drafted to Angola as a young Soviet army conscript. But was the adult Bout selling arms? Or just operating planes which others used to deliver weapons – his constant defence? And even if he was selling arms, what is the difference between legal and illegal arms selling? I suspect that this documentary withholds evidence to make its subject all the more ambiguous a character, but it’s an eye-opening story about a man who got very rich, very quick yet seemed to thrive on the chase, not the rewards.

The Notorious Mr Bout – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

Grace of Monaco (cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)

As with Naomi Watts and the Princess Diana film, so with Nicole Kidman and this biography of Princess Grace of Monaco – what was she thinking? The film focuses on the actress Grace Kelly shortly after she married Rainier (Tim Roth), prince of a speck of a principality between France and Italy, at the point where Kelly was forced to choose between a life of regal loftiness and a return to Hollywood and Mr Hitchcock’s latest thriller. Meanwhile, outside Monaco, General de Gaulle is rattling his sabre and preparing to pounce. A good enough story, though if you’ve ever wanted proof of the assertion that good taste is the enemy of art, here it is. Everything looks a gazillion dollars, from the clothes to the post-production work on the girlishly panting Kidman’s face, and the fact that it was shot in Monaco is probably enough to sound the alert that there won’t be anything untoward going on. So, no suggestion that the pre-princess Grace gave the best blowjobs in Hollywood, or any of that sort of thing thank you very much. Instead we’re given a friend-of-liberty, kind-to-kids, voice-of-democracy, crutch-of-the-lame beatification as Grace the actress “takes on her greatest challenge”, the “woman learns the skills of the princess”, these baubles strung onto an intrigue-at-the-palace plot which has half-hearted moments of trying to ape Hitchcock’s style. Car crash viewing, you’d call it, if that weren’t a joke in terrible taste.

Grace of Monaco – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

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