27 May 2013-05-27

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville

 

 

Out in the UK This Week

The Last Stand (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Welcome back Arnold Schwarzenegger, just a touch arthritic after all those years running California and now, with seven projects announced on the imdb, clearly cranking them out quick before the ibuprofen wears off. So what do we have here? It’s Arnie as a sheriff in a nowhere town down near the Mexican border being inveigled into an Unforgiven style strapping back on of the guns by a seriously bad escaped gangster (Eduardo Noriega) who’s heading down Arnie’s way in a hilariously fast car. The big idea is a lone-hero High Noon showdown but in essence this an 80s action movie – choppers, black and white cop cars screaming down the highway, guys with moustaches, a high body count. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, and director Kim Jee-Woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) knows how to handle the action, especially the monster final car chase through a cornfield in which Arnie – whose catchphrase this time seems to be “I am the sheriff” (just in case his acting hadn’t convinced you) – finally accepts the inevitable and goes all governator on Noriega’s ass.

The Last Stand – at Amazon 

 

Lore (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Cate Shortland made Abbie Cornish a star with Somersault. The fact that Cornish has squandered that is not the director’s fault. Shortland is up to something faintly similar here, with a tale of a motherless family making its way across Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War. The setting and family are the stuff of Hitler’s fever dreams – blonde girls, unspoilt countryside, birdsong – and once Shortland has set up our family of unthinking supporters of the Führer, off she sends them on a journey both physically and psychologically demanded, to be presented with the meaning of war and Nazism. Running under this – hence the Somersault reference – is repressed sexual longing, never fully expressed, when the oldest girl (Saskia Rosendahl, who plays Lore and is Shortland’s Abbie Cornish this time out) meets a young man on the road. Who turns out to be a Jew. To be honest this diversion into sexual territory doesn’t really help what was shaping up to be an extremely interesting drama about denazification and the culpability of “the ignorant German”.

Lore – at Amazon

 

The Liability (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

There’s a comedy trying to escape from a thriller in The Liability, the story of a completely hopeless young man and his road trip with a professional hitman. Jack O’Connell (the young one) holds his own against Tim Roth at his driest and their scenes together on a road trip to do a job are extremely funny. And then a siren-like Talulah Riley enters and the film dives off up a different genre alley and becomes just a generic thriller. Pity. It’s good. But could have been great.

 The Liability – at Amazon

 

Nothing But the Truth (Signature, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A 1970s-style political drama which sees Kate Beckinsale forsaking the black rubber of Underworld to play a principled journalist going to prison rather than reveal her source. It’s aiming for the grand sweep of All the President’s Men, but writer/director Rod Lurie is no William Goldman and after a while his “everybody says just what’s on their mind” soap-style way of moving the action forward starts to drag everything down. Which is a shame because Beckinsale isn’t bad and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on in the support cast (which includes Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga and David Schwimmer – go on, admit at least one of these has piqued your interest. By which I mean Schwimmer). Ignore the fact that this drama takes the case of Judith Miller (the New York Times journalist who seemed to be acting as a White House stooge in the build up to the second Iraq War) and bends all the facts out of shape. There’s no profit to be had there.

Nothing But the Truth – at Amazon

 

Aurora (New Wave, cert 12, DVD)

A three hour film following a very dour, shifty Romanian chap as he wanders through the wreckage of his life, making things worse as he goes. What he’s actually up to is the stuff of spoilers, but I suppose you could loosely call this a thriller, with Cristi Puiu the focus of the “action”, such as it is. Piui was the writer and director of The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and he’s doing something similar here in a film that takes place in shabby apartment blocks, in underground car parks, out in cement-coloured Bucharest. It’s all filmed in what you might call Romanian New Wave Drab, and there’s hardly a shot that isn’t composed through the frame of a doorway – we’re as outside the action as this man is seemingly disconnected from himself. If all that description makes Aurora sound difficult, it isn’t. Though it is bleak, it is undoubtedly compelling.

Aurora – at Amazon

 

I Wish (Arrow, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

This is genius film-making, a series of stories all exquisitely conceived, acted, shot, focusing on a young Japanese boy who is convinced that if he stands where the bullet train from one direction meets the bullet train from the other, then his wish will come true. It’s made by Hirokazu Koreeda, director of After Life and Air Doll, and is one of the most purely sweet yet not sentimental films I’ve ever seen.

I Wish – at Amazon

 

Gangster Squad (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

On paper a film starring Sean Penn as a gangster, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as cops on his case, all set in 1940s Los Angeles – hat, cars, femmes very fatales – sounds like a high-octane rush and a half. Add in a supporting cast of … where do we start?… Giovanni Ribisi, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie? Cinematography by Dion Beebe – whose work on Collateral was cool and gorgeous. But there’s something missing in Gangster Squad. A script, mostly. But also something in Ruben Fleischer’s direction. What worked in Zombieland doesn’t work here. Then he was in spoof territory; here he’s in pastiche. There’s a world of difference. With spoof you can just hold things up and we’ll laugh. With pastiche we need plot, characters, motivation too. All absent.

Gangster Squad – at Amazon

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Liability

Jack O'Connell and Tim Roth in The Liability

 

 

Starting great but ending merely good, this British thriller full of deadpan laughs is sexy, nasty and features two great actors, Tim Roth and Peter Mullan. It even boasts a starmaking performance by Jack O’Connell as The Liability.

 

The genre is announced before the opening credits, as a man in a car parked somewhere bleak but lit with the rainbow palette of an acolyte of Christopher Doyle is gruesomely garrotted from the rear passenger seat by someone we never see.

 

Except it isn’t. The genre we thought it was, I mean. Cut to Adam (Jack O’Connell) a total dipstick who has borrowed his mum’s boyfriend’s C Class Mercedes and is razzing it up and down the road, until he inevitably prangs it, which causes mum’s boyfriend Peter to get very angry with him indeed. Since Mum’s boyfriend is played by Peter Mullan, “very angry” is only scratching the surface of his rage – there is much worse to come.

 

It’s somewhere around here that we’re again re-introduced to the thriller plot that is going to be the undoing of this otherwise rather fabulous little film – Peter appears to be involved in sex trafficking. Possibly. Who knows? He seems the type.

 

Cut to the next day and Adam is now driving Roy (Tim Roth), a blank-faced hitman, up the motorway to a job somewhere, this being part of Adam’s payback for the shitload of damage he’s done to Peter’s car. At this point John Wrathall’s screenplay poses a question – is our hitman just a hitman, or is he also a notorious serial killer called the Handyman, news of whose bloody progress is is being delivered by car radio bulletins and shots of newspaper headlines? Why the film is asking this question I really don’t know. For the purposes of jeopardy isn’t a naive kid sitting in a car with a hitman enough already?

 

But as Adam and Roy motor up the country, the film starts to rev up too, Roy’s deadpan responses to Adam’s incessant witless drivelling making for  beautiful double-act comedy in scene after scene of funny back and forth. “Gizzago” says Adam at one point, wanting to get in on this hitman lark. “Gizzago?” replies Roy, incredulously. Well it made me laugh.

 

At somewhere around this point, as Adam and Roy pause in the woods to kill someone, an innocent hiker, Talulah Riley, wanders onto the scene and the film starts to wander off it. It’s not her fault. Riley is there to deliver sex by the metric tonne, which she does. But she also signals the full arrival of Plot B (sex trafficking), which seems as unnecessary to the film as the whole hitman-as-Handyman business.

 

On the upside this is a film about archetypes that locks straight in, and does it unapologetically. The hitman, the liability, the liability’s unbelievably violent stepfather, his slutty mother, the sexy girl – that’s just about everyone who’s in this low-budget affair.

 

When it’s working at its best The Liability is at its most character-driven. The cast really helps. When you hire people like Mullan or Roth you expect the sort of acting you can stand a spoon up in. 22-year-old O’Connell more than holds his own against this lot and that must mark him out as something special.

 

But the film is merely good not great. Sadly the whole back end, Riley vengeful in the sex-trafficking storyline, sees the character-driven thrust abandoned. An almost elemental plot centring on an odd-couple double-act – the totally professional hitman and the waste-of-space sidekick – has been junked in favour of a thriller finish.

 

Mind you, this finale in a waterworks pumphouse does at least allow cinematographer James Friend to get his Christopher Doyle gels back out again, the ones he was using in the car park before the opening credits. So the film ends as it began – looking great, gnarly, thrillerish. But it’s the film sandwiched in between these bookends that is the one to watch.

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

 

The Liability – at Amazon