Out in the UK This Week
Compliance (Soda, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Supposedly based on a true story, this simple drama made for buttons focuses on Becky (Dreama Walker), a pretty young employee at a fast food joint whose routine of inane chat and mild flirting with her co-worker is disturbed by a call to her boss’s office. Over the next hour or so we watch as Becky is subjected to humiliation and degradation at the hands of her employer and colleagues, all at the behest of a disembodied voice at the end of the line, claiming to be a cop, who simply asks the McJobbers to do his increasingly weird bidding. This drama is the Stanford Experiment made flesh, in other words, the study which made clear the tendency for people to simply obey when an authority figure is doing the asking. Craig Zobel, who wrote and directed, seems keen to blame the consumer society – frequently cutting between the stark unpleasantnesses going on in the boss’s office and the cow-eyed burger munchers out on the shop floor – but that’s an overegging of the pudding this punchy number doesn’t need.
The Look of Love (StudioCanal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
The life of Paul Raymond, at one point Britain’s richest man and also its most successful soft-pornographer, as seen through the eyes of writer Matt Greenhalgh and director Michael Winterbottom. Steve Coogan plays Raymond, giving it 50 per cent Alan Partridge as usual, as a tacky, thoughtless man incapable of feeling. Which wouldn’t matter much but for Raymond’s daughter (Imogen Poots), the love of his life, who died of a drug overdose, drugs having been one of the facets of the good life that Raymond had introduced her to. There are a lot of really good performances here – Anna Friel as Raymond’s tough but decent wife, a remarkable Chris Addison as his editorial major domo, Tamsin Egerton as his mistress, Fiona Richmond. But there is a purse-lipped puritanism about the whole affair that keeps us at arm’s length from Raymond, keeps us from understanding him. So we’re left dry eyed as the tone shifts from the scenes of 1970s excess and speedy consumption, Benny Hill-style, of drugs, booze and flesh and tries to go for the heartfelt tragic finish.
Oblivion (Universal, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Another Tom Cruise sci-fi film. This time he’s taken Total Recall and given it a light respray – a man on a remote planet discovers he might not be who he thinks he is, might not be one of the good guys, and that his female partner (played with a wasp-chewing relish by Andrea Riseborough) might not be on his side. It is all swooshingly gorgeous, the technical side of things has been seriously thought about, Tom even takes a second off here and there from offering his three-quarter profile to camera to show us that, now in his 50s, he’s a bit beaten up at the edges. A nice touch in a film that remains interesting to the end, even if it eventually becomes a much more muted sci-fi offering than it at first is suggesting.
Teen Beach Movie (Disney, cert U, DVD)
Two “cool-awesome” Disney-ish teenagers get trapped in a 1960s Disney surfing movie called Wet Side Story where everyone looks like Zac Efron. This year’s High School Musical is a lot more knowing, and even more kitsch than its Disney antecedent, but it is a lot of fun too – the songs are pretty good, the kids can dance, there are more jokes than the bare minimum requires, and everyone flings themselves at it like they were trying to repel a barbarian invader. I smiled, I think I swung my foot almost in time to the music, I enjoyed myself. Not that I’ll be admitting it to anyone.
Bernie (Universal, cert 12, DVD)
Richard Linklater’s willingness to experiment keeps him an engrossing film-maker – what is he going to do next? Here he takes an interesting premise – what happens when the nicest guy in a small town murders a rich old cow no one will miss? How does justice proceed then? It’s a true story too, and Linklater mixes real-life talking heads into his story featuring Jack Black as the “light on his sneakers” mortician who uses the old lady’s money on spreading joy and happiness around town once he’s done away with her. The crone, meanwhile, is played by Shirley Maclaine and it’s a great performance – I watched her in The Apartment, when she was a hot young babe, a couple of weeks ago and her ability to seize the camera, almost literally, remains undiminished. But is it a comedy? Black seems to think so, Maclaine seems less sure, Linklater seems to think not. Makes for a very uneven watching experience.
Inseparable (Matchbox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
OK, here comes China as an international film-maker with what looks like a tryout for future world cinematic domination, a strange bi-lingual movie taking as many of the genres as they could cram in – fantasy, romance, thriller, action, superhero and comedy – and then casting Kevin Spacey as a Mr Fixit helping a man in a fix (likeable Californian-born Chinese actor Daniel Wu) get his life on track. Luc Besson’s DP, Thierry Arbogast, gives it a crisp western sheen but it’s more of interest as a declaration of Chinese intent than as a great film in its own, rather muddled if amiable, right.
The Tarnished Angels (Eureka, cert U, DVD)
A beautiful remaster in sparkling monochrome of Douglas Sirk’s melodrama about a woman caught between a stunt pilot working the county fair circuit and his grease monkey. A situation compounded by the arrival of a reporter who makes things really uncomfortable with both his probing questions and his “four’s really a crowd” interest in her. Dorothy Malone smoulders as the bad girl who’s really too old to be referred to as a girl (a fact the film hinges on, I’m not being nasty), Robert Stack tries out some of the intense staring Nicolas Cage would later tap into, while Jack Carson plays the oily rag with real believability. Rock Hudson is the revelation, puffing life into an underwritten role and holding the whole thing together. Don’t watch if you’re feeling particularly sisterly – William Faulkner’s original novel doesn’t exactly give Malone a halo (she doesn’t say “I’m bad, bad I tell you” but it’s close) – but if you want a good example of what Darren Aronofsky was aiming at with Black Swan, what Robert Zemeckis was after with Flight or what was inspiring Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces then you must not miss this.
© Steve Morrissey 2013