Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

San Sebastián: NEDS

[No major plot spoilers, as long as you know it's about non-educated delinquents. Which is the title acronym.]

Watching Peter Mullan's Neds at a Spanish-subtitled screening in San Sebastián's Teatro Principal was an experience both electrifying and frustrating in ways an immediate tweet-response and grade can't really take into account, so I'm glad I've had the benefit of a few days and an unexpectedly epic homebound journey to ponder it further, particularly since it's now been awarded the Best Film and Best Actor awards. I remain thoroughly on the film's side, some clearly wobbly sequences notwithstanding, but an especially tricky problem was posed by the sound: this soft Southerner struggles to comprehend thick Scottish accents at the best of times, but every single English-speaking viewer I bumped into afterwards had the same complaint about huge quantities of mumbled Glaswegian slang falling by the wayside. (Trust me, the leeway Mullan gives his locally-sourced actors in this makes Trainspotting sound like An Ideal Husband.) There were insults and laugh-lines only the local viewers found hilarious, thanks to the benefit of being able to read the Spanish — if it weren't for the embarrassment, I'd have turned to my neighbours and asked "What was that uproarious thing he just said?" more times than I was able to count. Though the Principal's acoustics may have been partly to blame, my strong hunch is that Mullan will be asked to subtitle the movie for English (and surely American) audiences too; I think it's customary to find this silly or appalling, but in this case I actively look forward to catching it a second time and being able to relish all the rude catcalls and bits of bullying invective I missed, on top of the many excellent scenes that rang out loud and clear.

That initial tweet reaction ("messy but inspired") is still roughly where I'm at, but inspiration and mess tend to go hand in hand here: the film has superb, sustained passages which jostle right up against chunks of stuff that plain don't work. Everyone will draw their own conclusions about the following: the whole last act, dramatically choppy and schizoid in ways that bothered me less than the too-organised flaggy allegory of Shane Meadows's This is England, to which it's already being compared; the ostentatiously metaphorical final sequence, which I'm still mulling over; slightly earlier and even bolder, a druggy, go-for-broke encounter with a kick-ass manifestation of Christ; and Mullan's own supporting performance as the main character's permanently wasted, abusive father, a fierce and gurning turn which is right on the edge of being simply too much.

Then again, Mullan's best work as a director is almost always dancing on this very precipice. For every viewer who mentally checked out of The Magdalene Sisters when Eileen Walsh started shouting "You are naart a man of Gaard!", I know someone else who thinks it's the film's bravest and most brilliant coup. What's particularly outstanding here is the school stuff, and there's a (very) good hour of this. The journey of John McGill from milksop swot to vicious sociopath, charted through jagged phases that I believed far more palpably than the textbook conversion of Shaun in the Meadows film, is quietly tragic and unobtrusively affecting: we watch his intelligence curdle, this bright, diligent mind reorient itself to discover a kind of animal cunning. Neds never feels like lecturing sociology, serving up the mitigating circumstances to explain why John falls in with the ASBO crowd. It's significant that he hardly spends any time with his older brother Benny (Joe Szula), a notorious wrong 'un, because Mullan consistently keeps them at arm's length, more interested in the disparities between these siblings, in age, interests and scholarly drive, than the temperamental common ground forced on them by domestic circumstances. "Problems at home" may not have been so specifically dramatised since Nil By Mouth, albeit in a glancing, intentionally banal way here. The repeated shots of Mullan hollering at his wife from the base of the stairs have a harsh, lurid, debatably overacted menace, but he's even scarier as this faceless, disarticulated presence moving through rooms, violently opening drawers, a dark midriff passing silently behind the dinner table. It's entirely apropos that we want to spend as little time in this fearful household as humanly possible.

At school, Mullan resists any tempting Magdalene urge to ham up an ensnaring sense of institutional oppression. It's a place of apathy, mockery, and just muddling along, which is nonetheless desperately likely to fail all its students (and indeed staff) in offhand yet brutally life-altering ways. John, played as an uncertain youngster by Gregg Forest, fights his bookish little corner to begin with, but Mullan only needs a judicious moment for a forward jump and older actor (Connor McCarron, the gong-winner) to suggest what has changed, a certain light that's gone out, a hardening against the idea of being exceptional in the herd. Among the various teachers, played with chippy charm by Crying with Laughter's Stephen McCole, whose wrong side you would not want to see, ineffectual palliness by David McKay in a terrific one-scene cameo, and Gary Lewis, whose introduction, offering John a piggy-back through the school's main entrance, is a bizarre and unsettlingly deadpan tour de force, the most significant is Mr Bonetti (Steven Robertson), who welcomes John into Latin lessons and has wily methods of encouragement which carry frequent risks of backfiring. Robertson's scenes are almost unfailingly the film's best, I think, not only because his performance, as the most guardedly optimistic character, has places to go the other supporting turns lack, but because Mullan builds him into the pivotal moment when John conclusively turns his back on academic ambition, throwing this kindly, exasperated mentor to the wolves when he calculates what classroom cred he can gain from an act of insolent insurrection. McCarron is at his strongest here too, stepping up to a level of performative cockiness pitched carefully to John's peers — he manages to combine wicked assurance with shrugging indifference, and win the fight hands down.

The patchier second half never reaches these formidable peaks, though two scenes on a bus come close. John steals money from a driver at knife-point, a charged, indelible, oddly intimate encounter that lasts mere seconds, and later taunts his posh ex-friend Julian (Martin Bell) from the seat behind, cruelly flicking the ear of a black companion he's never met, and whose only moment in the film this is. Anyone who has ever sat through an uncomfortable or hostile experience on British public transport will feel the excruciating power and precision of that flick, more for the point it's proving than the token pain caused: it made me wince more than any of the all-out scenes of Clockwork Orange-esque gang beatings, the scrabblings with knives in school bathrooms, or the clonking of a character on the head with a loose gravestone, acute though Mullan's staging control often is in these outbursts. I don't want to dwell here on what's simply disorganised towards the end of Neds, which seems strangely unclear whether it's disappearing inside John's swirling head or backing away into abstract metaphor, because the limitations of the movie are easily the least interesting thing about it. What Mullan grasps here he grasps with clenched fists, and shakes often enough to sock his points home: that adolescent unhappiness and intellectual promise can be about the worst possible bedfellows, and the deadliest thugs, in another, more privileged life, might have been shoo-ins to Oxbridge. B+

Saturday, September 18, 2010

San Sebastián: I SAW THE DEVIL

I'll admit up front that I really don't get on too well with Kim Ji-woon among Korea's genre virtuosos, basically because I keep waiting for his films to develop beyond snazzy, self-adoring showreels with an ever-dwindling sense of actually going anywhere. A Tale of Two Sisters was entirely promising and allowable in this regard, without quite, for me, being the full banquet many enjoyed; A Bittersweet Life left me as thoroughly cold as gratuitously bloody existential macho cool always seems wont, if not actively designed, to do; and The Good, the Bad, the Weird wore out its crazy, caffeinated welcome long before the 130-minute running time crawled to a cherished end. Even longer and flinging out a frankly batshit pick'n'mix of customised serial-killer revenge games, I Saw the Devil is operatically grisly if nothing else: the first victim, betrothed to Lee Byung-hun's sharp-suited secret agent, is jumped in her broken-down car, begs for her life and explains she's pregnant before getting casually hacked up by Choi Min-sik's favourite cleaver, leaving only a severed ear (!) and a head in a box (!) to hint at her vapidly film-referential fate. There's plenty more squirmy stuff with Achilles tendons being slowly sliced, guillotines roaring in the OTT sound mix (OTT are Kim's favourite letters, except maybe CRAZY!), and a whole bevy more victims being leeringly and kind of annoyingly jeopardised by the illogical deferrals of Lee's payback scheme. Still sporting the most devastating male cheekbones in cinema, he can't for one second plausibly drive the character to let Choi off the hook as often as he does: Kim wants that Nietzsche quote about monsters becoming monsters to justify the absurd contortions of his prolong-the-pain plot, but it doesn't at all. You get the moment-by-moment set piece flair you're probably expecting, and Choi's louche villainy, schticky though it is by now: he's just the latest sick fiend with style, one of many psycho loners Kim is caught between reviling and blatantly idolising. But how often can a camera adopt the sex killer's aroused point of view, panning right up into a schoolgirl's trembling knickers, before you start to feel a dodgy complicity about this whole fandango? D

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thoughts on this redesign?

Bearing in mind that I'm utterly hopeless at html. Opted for blogger upgrade mainly so that I can embed my twitter feed, which the old version wouldn't let me do. Wish I could make the sidebar background different from the main one for posts, but that doesn't seem possible on this template... unless some genius out there can advise me otherwise? Extra cookies to whoever identifies the header picture.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Les maudits (1947)

(screened on nitrate print at the bfi Southbank, 31/8)

René Clément made his name with the cinematographer Henri Alekan, who would go on to carve out an arguably greater reputation for Cocteau’s La belle et la bête and Wings of Desire, with an Oscar nomination for Roman Holiday along the way. I haven’t seen their acclaimed 1945 documentary La bataille du rail, about Resistance saboteurs, but a stark faux-doc style is the hallmark of this surprisingly obscure subsequent feature, a commercial flop at the time which has amassed the paltry sum of 44 votes on IMDb to date. No measure of a movie, I know, but it surely deserves better than that on face value alone, as a grimly involved and engrossing tale of maritime intrigue in the closing days of the war. The action is largely confined to an escaping U-boat, which pulls away from Oslo to seek harbour in one of those South American Nazi sanctuaries where Josef Mengele pitched up. (At least, that's the plan.) It’s almost Hitchcock’s Lifeboat in negative — this vessel's full of Nazis and collaborators of various nationalities (the title means “The Damned”, making it the third film of that name I've seen this year) whose safety or certainty of escape is obscurely compromised by the arrival on board of French doctor Guilbert (Henri Vidal), who knows more German than anyone quite realises. He’s beckoned in to attend to the injured, near-comatose wife of an Italian industrialist, played by Florence Marly in a performance with more than a touch of Foreign Affair Dietrich: her blatant cavorting with Kurt Kronefeld’s SS general suggests a long-hatched escape plan which makes for awkward moments aplenty, given that everyone, to include her outraged husband (Fosco Giachetti), is bunked in such heaving and smeggy proximity.

Alekan’s skill is not, alas, at full maturity in every frame of this often crudely lit, excessively shadowy production, but there’s an excellent, viscerally wobbly, Paths-of-Glory-trench-cam reverse tracking shot as Guilbert is lured down the full length of the sub to attend to Marly's flaky diva, little realising that the boat will pull away before he has the chance to disembark; he's thereby held captive for his continued medical expertise before the assembled fugitives grasp that his presence is potentially treacherous, if not disastrous. The other visual highlight is an on-shore episode involving negotiations with a turncoat agent (Marcel Dalio, top-billed for a virtual cameo) who plans to sell them all downriver now that Hitler’s death in the bunker has hit the airwaves: a wily young German adjutant (Michel Auclair) tries to strike a deal to make his getaway, hiding in a warehouse full of coffee-bean sacks which Alekan treats to a welcome touch of overhead expressionism. Otherwise, functional claustrophobia is the order of the day, with as many talking heads crammed into the average frame as possible, while morale frays and the less fervent buddies of the Führer start panicking about when to desert this figuratively sinking ship, and how.

It must be said that Clément’s on-again, off-again approach to the point of view he’s giving Guilbert, who gets voiceover through some parts, and is first shown committing his whole testimony to a journal, but is nowhere to be seen through key sequences like the Dalio stuff, makes the dramatic basis of the movie a lot more rickety than it might have been: popular though Vidal would become in the 1950s, he’s a colourless lead here, and the character gets lost in his endless skulking in and out of hatches below deck. The real star — the film’s Col Hans Landa, if we must — is Jo Dest, whose Gestapo officer Forster is handily outranked by the decorated SS general he essentially strips to mince. Elderly and obviously homosexual — Kronefeld at first places him only after a glance at Auclair’s pretty-boy sidekick — he’s all the more snakelike for what a deferential role he appears to be playing: Dest makes of him a deadly veteran functionary, who can insinuate his way to the top of command and talk the crew into firing up torpedoes. The framing business with Vidal scribbling ardently by candlelight and the final, declamatory coining of the title are thudding and lame, but no more so than you might get from a jobbing-it Orson Welles, say, taking a crack at a promising Graham Greene script everyone else had passed on. It's some way better than its overrated Losey and Visconti namesakes, and certainly never as squiffy as Welles’s more-or-less contemporary The Stranger (1946), but if we needed further proof that Clément is merely roughing out a commercial style here, the altogether smoother, more clement (I went there!), yet somehow headier voyage of Plein soleil (1960) is right there to provide it. B–

Friday, August 20, 2010

By popular demand...

(This already short review was trimmed to fit the page. The original cut, for what it's worth...)

Piranha 3D (18 cert, 88 min)

The suspense is as skimpy as the swimwear in this shameless 3D remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws spoof, directed by French gore specialist Alexandre Aja. The presence of Kelly Brook, who acquits herself fine, typifies an excessively guilty bit of Friday-night trash — it wants to have its breasts and eat them. It’s spring break at a lake in Arizona, and a minor quake unleashes prehistoric gnashers on an unsuspecting parade of partying hotties, under the concerned eye of Elisabeth Shue’s sassy sheriff. Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd have fun cameos, but Aja’s lazy direction and reliance on tawdry digital body trauma makes the movie more of a gloating endurance test than an actual good time: it’s quite leering enough before Eli Roth turns up.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Robey's Oscar Rewrites: (4)

(Going by IMDb year, as usual.)


They said...

*Michael Douglas, Wall Street
William Hurt, Broadcast News
Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes
Jack Nicholson, Ironweed
Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam

I say...

Timothy Dalton, The Living Daylights
Richard E. Grant,
Withnail and I
Joe Mantegna,
House of Games
Donal McCann, The Dead
Terry O'Quinn, The Stepfather

Honourable mentions:

John Candy (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), William Hurt (Broadcast News), Peter Weller (Robocop), Christian Bale (Empire of the Sun), Gary Oldman (Prick Up Your Ears), Dennis Quaid (The Big Easy).

When I went up...


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Robey's Oscar Rewrites: (3)

With apologies for the lengthy break in service.


They said...

Jodie Foster, Nell
*Jessica Lange, Blue Sky
Miranda Richardson, Tom & Viv
Winona Ryder, Little Women
Susan Sarandon, The Client

(Not quite as useless a line-up as people often claim, though it could have been so much stronger if it weren't for eligibility snafus and general myopia...)

I say...

Toni Collette, Muriel's Wedding
Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction
Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers
Julianne Moore, Vanya on 42nd Street
Sigourney Weaver, Death and the Maiden

Sharing the sixth spot:

Melanie Lynskey, Heavenly Creatures
Kate Winslet, Heavenly Creatures

Honourable mentions:

Irène Jacob (Three Colours Red), Isabelle Adjani (La Reine Margot), Lauren Velez (I Like It Like That), Alberta Watson (Spanking the Monkey). Who says this was a bad year for actressing? Not me!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

This week's reviews

The Back-Up Plan (12A cert, 104 min) ★
A Nightmare on Elm St (18 cert, 95 min) ★

Here’s the way Hollywood careers work. Jennifer Lopez needs a comeback. She’s looking terrific – no problems there. She’s 41, just past what studios normally consider the romcom best-before date, but Sandra Bullock has earned an extension on that, so why can’t she? After all, she’s put Ben Affleck and Gigli behind her – so very 2003. Still, we don’t want to risk a failure that conspicuous, anything risky like a thriller, or anything with an actual plot. Something safe, then. Old tricks.

New spin? A baby, perhaps. She’s had one? Passé. She wants one. How about artificial insemination, so she’s pregnant before even meeting the man of her dreams? A premise! It’s new-ish, without being off-puttingly new. It’ll fit into an acceptable zone of mind-numbing, women’s-weekly-editorial, pseudo-zeitgeisty tedium. It’ll do.

Thus The Back-Up Plan was surely conceived, and it absolutely puts your back up. J.Lo’s new-found beau (Alex O’Loughlin) runs a goat farm and peddles cheese at a market stall. Of course he does. I won’t knock his shirtless tractor driving, but he exudes all the charisma of a boiled slug. Before their first dinner date, we get the inevitable comedy with home pregnancy tests. Her dog swallows one, then throws it up. During the date, he (that’s the beau, not the dog) lays on candlelit pizza for two in one of Manhattan’s obliging walled gardens, leans over for a kiss, and knocks over what must be the world’s only flammable bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. A disaster, all round.

There’s further scintillating dialogue to come (“I’m your cheese muse”) and a grotesque parody of a single mothers’ support group, culminating in an entirely undelightful sequence with another mum’s polluted birthing pool, into which J.Lo obviously trips. The tick-tock of the biological clock might be a real enough subject, but actual parturition is the grossest thing this movie can imagine, except when Lopez herself gets round to it. D

There was always a high likelihood the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street wouldn’t work out. Freddy Krueger’s dream-murder tactics stop being scary the second they’re too familiar, and Samuel Bayer’s film is nothing if not that, rehashing plenty of sequences from Wes Craven’s 1984 original: Freddy’s finger-blades emerge from bathwater, his upper body bulges in the wallpaper above someone’s bed, and he slaughters the same sleep-deprived teens in pretty much the same order. Would novelty have cost them anything?

Jackie Earle Haley, inheriting the role, isn’t to blame, but he’s more stymied by the burn-victim cosmetics than Robert Englund was, and his half-baked performance feels mangled in the edit – it’s not imposing enough. This version is ghoulishly overt about Freddy being a lynched paedophile; where the murkiness of his back-story made him almost a fairytale figure in Craven’s script, here everything has to be depressingly literalised.

I’m not claiming Craven’s film was exactly a tour de force in the acting department, but at least Freddy’s victims had a modicum of personality, so that we cared on some level whether they lived or died. Bayer’s movie, which is garishly incompetent in basic areas like sound synching, assumes bad CGI is enough in itself to suggest slippage between nightmares and reality. There’s maybe some sense of how agonising it might be to stay awake for days on end, but the movie is so sluggish and feebly imagined you could soundly snooze through it and not miss a thing. D

Furry Vengeance (PG cert, 91 min)

Brendan Fraser, whose labours in the arena of family entertainment get more and more masochistic, stars as a land developer thrust into a turf war with imperilled forest critters. The whole movie feels extrapolated from the five-second clip of a scheming chipmunk on YouTube, bulked out with many, many shots of Fraser being thwacked with some generic foley crunch noise and falling backwards with his feet in the air. A diabolical raccoon masterminds the attack of the allegedly cute fauna, but they’re off-puttingly creepy and computer-generated, and ever-trashier director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions) severely overestimates both the comedy and eco-preaching value of being repeatedly skunk-sprayed. In fairness, there might be some silly fun for the kids here, and Ken Jeong has snappy timing in the role of Fraser’s Blackberry-pecking boss, whose lip-service to green principles never lasts more than a microsecond. But it’s needlessly lame and cardboard stuff. D+

Sus (15 cert, 91 min)

A cannily-timed release for Barrie Keeffe’s absorbing three-hander, set on election night 1979, and set almost wholly in a police interrogation room where a black Brit called Delroy (underrated Clint Dyer) is hauled up on suspicion of killing his wife. Dyer’s transition from cocky boredom to tear-streaked fury is powerfully handled, and Ralph Brown brings a credible menace to his covertly bigoted cop. Though it’s hard to see what Rafe Spall’s dawdling, lightweight deputy brings to the party, Keeffe’s play packs a solidly indignant punch on screen. B

A Room and a Half (12A cert, 130 min)

Flights of melancholic reverie and animated fancy pervade this imagined life of the exiled Russian poet Joseph Brodsky – at times self-conscious in its sepia-tinted nostalgia, at others glowing and magical. B

Psych:9 (15 cert, 97 min)

Hysteria and hysterectomies in a deserted hospital. You mainly fear for the mental health of the screenwriter. F

One Night in Turin (15 cert, 97 min)

Naggingly unnecessary doc about the Italia 90 World Cup. C


Monday, April 26, 2010

Last week's reviews and capsules

The Joneses (15 cert, 98 min) ★★★

Centurion (15 cert, 97 min) ★★

Agora (12A cert, 126 min) ★★

Any film which casts Demi Moore as capitalism incarnate, which The Joneses does, gets points for figuring out at least one way to use her. Uneasy though we may feel playing spot the surgery, it almost fits her role as a one-woman advertising campaign: she hardly needs act to make it the best thing she’s done since Disclosure (1994).

The film starts out pert and amusing, like a dark sitcom. Moore and the nimble David Duchovny are all health and wealth as they move into an upscale neighbourhood with their two teenage kids (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth, both much too old for these roles, but no matter).

It’s quickly clear none of the Joneses are actually related. They’re paid agents in a stealth marketing scheme, their mission to turn heads, show off clothes, cars, gadgets to the admiring golf and pedicure set. Duchovny’s Steve is the rookie in the operation – he needs to boost his sales. Moore’s Kate, who won’t even let him sleep in the same bed, might reconsider if those numbers go up.

Writer-director Derrick Borte’s conceit is a fun one to be in on, but basically too synthetic to have the satirical bite it wants – it’s more a playful fantasy of consumerist whim than an edgy exposé. You know where it has to go – down some Damascene route of realising this whole scam, and consumption in general, is bad for the soul. It’s just a matter of time before everyone starts slapping their wrists, if not slitting them, but the spree is entertaining while it lasts. C+

There’s much grunting in Centurion, slicing of major arteries and clambering around on mossy Scottish hillsides. There’s also the kind of dialogue you only wish members of Rome’s ill-fated Ninth Legion had plausibly uttered. “This is Hadrian’s big f***ing plan? A wall?”. Quick memos scribbled on stone would have Latin teachers shaking their heads in horror.

More to the point, the whole thing’s a crudely reductive excuse to pit Romans against Picts and go splatter-mad, without building much in the way of suspense or anything in the way of character. A faintly disappointing Michael Fassbender and fellow survivors of the decimated Ninth team up to rescue their general (Dominic West, on good burly form), but it all goes horribly wrong, and they find themselves preyed upon by woad-smeared savages. Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who is meant to be the scariest huntress in all Caledonia, is more scowly irritant than fearsome villainness. It’s not a disaster, but it’s cheesy and generic stuff from Neil Marshall – too much guilt and not enough pleasure. C

You can’t fault Agora, a saga of ancient Alexandria, astronomy and religious strife, for gumption or ambition – just plain common sense. It’s of some egghead interest, but who on earth paid for it? Rachel Weisz, fetching in Egyptian shawls, stars as the philosopher Hypatia, who appears to have cracked gravity but not yet how the planets and sun interrelate. The director, Alejandro Amenábar, has a crashing great beef with Christian fundamentalism and the threat to scientific learning – everyone grabs what scrolls they can before the library’s ransacked. Meanwhile, the ridiculously handsome Max Minghella moons around as a lovestruck slave, vying with snooty-pants student Oscar Isaac for Hypatia’s affections.

Some clunky captions lurch us forward an hour in, and it’s still not clear what Amenábar thinks he’s doing – there are a few piercing images amid a lot of patience-taxing marketplace dust-ups, and some of the worst barnets in Christendom. Visibly recut, the movie has too little time to do itself intelligent justice – I wish it had been a miniseries. C

La danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (PG cert, 159 min) ★★★★★

A long but enrapturing documentary from the great Frederick Wiseman, this majestic film follows seven ballets from rehearsal through to performance, but there’s as much focus on sequins as pliés, catering as choreography. All is captured in this director’s famously quiet and unobtrusive style, achieving a measured tempo and feel for the subject which will beguile dance fans young and old. A

Extract (15 cert, 92 min) ★★

Mike (Beavis & Butthead) Judge struggles to make the grade with this ambling, half-hearted comedy about small business. Jason Bateman’s nicely beleaguered charm gets it off the ground, but Judge wastes the gifted Kristen Wiig as his bored wife, and Mila Kunis’s conniving con girl never earns her screen time. Fairly amiable, but that’s it. C

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (12A cert, 100 min) ★

Gurinder Chadha serves up a trainwreck romcom about unwed Roopi (Goldy Notay, deserving better) whose mum goes to murderous lengths to find her a suitor. The paste-grey apparitions of dead parents seem to be gunning for Ealing-esque dark laughs that never materialise, and a demented riff on the climax of Carrie hardly scoops us out of the doldrums. F

Cherrybomb (15 cert, 86 min) ★★

Rupert Grint doesn’t disgrace himself as a horny Irish teen – colour me surprised – and his co-stars are wayward but promising. So it’s a pity this reasonably polished slice of Skins-style youthsploitation makes such a deeply fake and undangerous lurch into pills-and-vandalism melodrama. C

The Calling (15 cert, 105 min) ★

Rum as a barrel of Sailor Jerry’s, Jan Dunn’s comedy-drama about Benedictine nuns in Ramsgate has Brenda Blethyn trying her best, Susannah York making half-deranged Sapphic overtures, and Rita Tushingham digging up mutant carrots. It ought to be set in Barking. D

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This week's capsules, uncut

Dear John (12A cert, 102 min)

Existing in a world where sunsets go on for charmed weeks at a time, farewells are uniformly moist, and bouts of terminal cancer are more dramatically convenient than they are sad, Dear John, it hardly needs saying, is the latest epistolary romance from the pen of Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle). All that’s missing from that title is the word “oh”. Channing Tatum stars as a soldier on leave, comporting himself in typical Tatum-ic fashion as if it were a physical burden to be swimming in so much testosterone. He meets Amanda Seyfried on a beach, and impresses her with his ability to create fire. “Very primal.” He’s also good at carpentry. She, an idealist, plans to open an equestrian summer camp for autistic kids. 9/11 intervenes, and he’s called to Afghanistan. Anguish looms, but all Lasse Hallström’s gauzy montages are powerless to coax a believable adult relationship out of this pair, so it’s hard to worry. Instead, they do that thing where you close one eye and cover the moon with your thumb, acting as if it were a thrilling discovery for our race. Are they six? D

Repo Men (18 cert, 111 min)

Nothing to do with Alex Cox’s 1984 cult comedy Repo Man – more’s the pity – this ghoulish and wildly illogical sci-fi thriller is all about a mega-corporatised dystopian near-future in which artificial organs are mortgaged out to the needy. Fail to make the repayments, and Jude Law and Forest Whitaker will come round to collect with a scalpel. The slicing and dicing is unsparingly full-on to the point where hardened critics were hiding behind their hands, and the ending is a daylight steal from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. But it’s the gruellingly slow pace which really does this in. D

City of Life and Death (15 cert, 135 min)

Very possibly the war film of the year, Lu Chuan’s excellent picture about the Rape of Nanking has a lacerating widescreen immediacy, but also a true artist’s gravity and tact. It’s meticulously assembled and quite devastating, with a particularly impressive first hour. Surveying the mass slaughter of Chinese POWs in silvery monochrome, the director gives these horrors the ghostly, ineradicable weight of historical fact, and achieves humane switches of perspective on both sides which put Saving Private Ryan to shame. B+

Boogie Woogie (15 cert, 90 min)

We learn that the London art world is dog-eat-dog – don’t stop the presses – in a tonal catastrophe which keeps kissing the air and calling it satire. Danny Huston’s Jay Jopling impression consists mainly of affected guffaws every few seconds, and Gillian Anderson has never been anywhere near this lousy. Think Pret-à-Porter, brace yourself, then make it even worse. F

The Market (15 cert, 94 min)

The always-interesting Brit experimenter Ben Hopkins (The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz) began work on this Turkish co-production after 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, his doc on a migrating tribe called the Pamir Kirghiz. His dolorous parable about a black-market trader (Tayanç Ayaydin) is an astute take on capitalism and its binds, though it might have worked better as a pithy short. B

Crying with Laughter (18 cert, 103 min)

A smashing turn from Stephen McCole as a troubled stand-up comedian elevates Justin Molonikov’s dark Scottish thriller – but the plot takes a wrong turn at the halfway point and never quite recovers. C

The Heavy (18 cert, 94 min)

Watching reluctant hit man Gary Stretch try, for no very obvious reason, to drown a cat affords the biggest laugh in this massively stupid London gangster movie, otherwise only recommended to those who urgently need to see Lee from Blue’s fingers being chiselled off. D

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (15 cert, 121 min)

John Frankenheimer’s original, delirious, brilliantly acerbic Cold War thriller. A

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Viewing log: 2/4/10

New Releases

A batty shambles, and ugly to boot, but you could snigger throughout at the costumes alone

An intellectual game, addictive to play, but let's not pretend its kooky thesis really adds up

Everything I said here

Disguises a cynical core under cute flash and cartoon brutality -- and disguises it badly

Pretty effortful, full of glum stick-people, and the Big Twist stinks up the joint

Faintly disappointing in its overdone "lyricism", but plainly heartfelt and certainly touching

Other Adventures

Great faces, great specificity, and terrifically supple in the ways it circles and observes

Children of God (LLGFF) D+

Dramatises both Bahamian homophobia and gay self-doubt with sledgehammer crudity