Out in the UK This Week
Dallas Buyers Club (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
He literally rides bulls, the hero of this refreshingly unsentimental Aids drama – comedy? – about a rampantly heterosexual Texas guy who discovers he’s HIV+. That’ll be the meth and hookers parties we see him indulging in. The hero of this film is its script – a taut, tight example of economical writing that arrives in each scene as late as possible, tells us just enough of what we need to know, before moving on. There’s no backstories either – bane of so many films these days. So notice how many characters in this film, people with speaking roles and everything, are not bogged down with a history. Leaving the floor clear for Matthew McConaughey, brilliant as real-life guy Ron Woodroof, Jared Leto, even better as the transvestite he eventually goes into partnership with, smuggling drugs into the USA because the FDA won’t approve life-saving medication. A true story, brilliantly told.
The Armstrong Lie (Sony, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Still as slippery as a snake, multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong comes as clean as he’s ever going to come about the drugs he used to win all those races. Documentarian Alex Gibney had spent some years making this doc when the revelations about Armstrong first came to light, forcing Gibney to handbrake-turn and make the film into something else. The hero-worship is clearly still in there, and to some extent that is justified. Maybe Armstrong is a cheat, but he’s clearly a punishingly fit human being. And his monumental repulsiveness acts as a service to humankind. To expose Armstrong, all manner of person comes out of the woodwork to explain how the doping, the transfusions etc, were done. And everyone was at it, of course – “don’t take a knife to a gunfight” as an ex member of Team Armstrong puts it. Fascinating, if a good 30 minutes too long. Luckily it’s the last 30 so you can just switch off at around 90 minutes in.
Stranger by the Lake (Peccadillo, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
You see a man’s erect cock being wanked to orgasm in this gay-centric French film unafraid to show us what actually goes on at a secluded lake where men go to sunbathe and cottage. It’s a thriller, rather than a porn film, and a very well made one, director Alain Guiraudie building his murder story around three repeated establishing shots and an evocative sound stage (waves, birds, wind) to develop a rhythm that’s quite hypnotic. The theme is sex – safe or otherwise – and the idea that there might be more to life than just pleasure. If you can take the content, you’ll definitely admire the form.
Grudge Match (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Clearly someone’s nine-word Hollywood pitch – put De Niro and Stallone in the ring together, Aging Bull and Crocky. And for the first half, the jokes come fairly hot and fast, about two guys who hate each other’s guts, who start lashing out every time they see each other, while generation iPhone stands around slackjawed, uploading it all to YouTube. Once it’s got this and its gags at the actors’ expense (De Niro the more gracious of the two – the jokes about his character’s poor career choices are unsettlingly near the mark), it dives into a pit of sentimentality that is so deep and all-encompassing it’s suffocating – the child you never knew you had? Are you kidding me? As for the fight finale. Give me a break, these guys can barely duck beneath the ropes.
The Rocket (Eureka, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
A little boy in Laos is born, grows up in his village, before his entire family are displaced by a gigantic dam project. Modernity and its discontents are the subject of this drama by Australian director Kim Mordaunt, a film that can’t be faulted in terms of cinematography or casting, which is astonishing. Nor does it fall into the trap of painting the brownskinned people as being noble natives displaced by the evil white man. So why was I slightly impatient watching it? I think because it was paying lip-service to a type of Asian movie in which quicksilver drops of water roll off matt green leaves of a spectacularly vivid hue. When in fact it’s more your traditional Hollywood rites-of-passage tale that’s taken time disguising itself, time that would be better spent just getting on with it. Worth it for the cast though. As said, astonishing.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Chris Pine is the fourth actor to play Jack Ryan – smart of mind, fast of fist, a CIA wonk who’s got it all. This is his origins story, and Pine is extremely likeable as Ryan. But it’s a dull, dull and stupid, stupid film. It would be tempting to blame Kenneth Branagh, who directed and also plays a Russkie villain made up of Cold War offcuts. In fact the whole film is offcuts – James Bond, Jason Bourne and George Smiley all being invoked as if by a Tibetan prayer wheel. Keira Knightley does the love interest and even gets a bit of a plotline, Kevin Costner plays Ryan’s control, and the film is to some degree bent out of shape by the need to include him in scenes where he simply shouldn’t be. This is most noticeable in the action sequences, where the camera cuts periodically away from Pine and to Costner. Does Costner have money involved? I don’t think this shambles is Branagh’s fault. He was a smooth and intelligent presence on the first Thor film. It takes studio experts to ruin something this conclusively.
That Awkward Moment (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
I’ve read positive reviews about That Awkward Moment, a “bro’s not ho’s” comedy about three young men who make a pact not to get emotionally involved with women, out of loyalty to one of the trio, recently dumped by his wife. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby used the same plotline in the Road to… films. Digression aside, the three are played by Zac Efron, the buff hot one who has to fight the girls off; Miles Teller, the one who amuses them into bed; and Michael B Jordan, the sensitive lovelorn one who probably should get back on the horse. But it’s a terribly unfunny, unromantic film that seems to think men behaving like dicks makes them somehow adorable. This applies most to the smirking Efron, who is too glib to be likeable. And no matter which way Imogen Poots turns her performance, the relationship between her and Efron just does not take wing. Yes, relationship – the “comedy” in this film coming from the fact that none of the guys stick to the pact. Hilarious.
© Steve Morrissey 2014