Out in the UK This Week
Nymphomaniac Vol I (Artificial Eye, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital)
A middle aged man finds a woman beaten up in the street. Taking her back to his house – she doesn’t want the police involved – he coaxes her story out of her with nothing more than a bit of tea and sympathy. And so starts Lars Von Trier’s most “normal” film to date, effectively a Victorian bildungsroman in which one party (Charlotte Gainsbourg) relates the ping-ponging progress of her life, while the other party (Stellan Skarsgård) prompts more revelations with a “do tell me more”. Von Trier barely bothers to hide the structure and sets about acclimatising us to the tone of the film straight away with an “I discovered my cunt at two years old” line from Gainsbourg’s battered mouth, before assaulting us with fuckings, friggings, beatings and gobblings. Of the two films, this first is by far is the more satisfying, being an almost Austen-esque disquisition on love – “the secret ingredient to sex is love” the teenage nymphomaniac-in-training (the fearless Stacy Martin) is told by her partner in Lolita-dom (Sophie Kennedy Clark). For all the nudity it is a remarkably unsexy film – Von Trier’s provocations do not include the incitement to lust – which draws really remarkable performances out of all involved. I can’t remember the last time I saw Christian Slater being sensitive, Uma Thurman this commanding, Shia LaBeouf being anything at all. LaBeouf is the standout, particularly excellent as young Joe’s (Gainsbourg/Martin) on-off lover.
Nebraska (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital)
Everyone loves an Alexander Payne road movie. This is his fourth – after About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants – and it follows aged, borderline-demented Bruce Dern on a bonding journey with his son back to the town where he grew up, there to meet the family that he deliberately moved away from. The folksiness of this film is infuriating – one fewer aw shucks scene set in a diner and I’d have been a happier camper. But there are enough great performances to act as a counterweight. June Squibb – never heard of her before but she is brilliant throughout as Dern’s practical wife and gets to anchor one of those absolutely crucial scenes by which the film hangs or goes free. And totally dominates it. Stacy Keach is good value too, as the ornery old fuck still throwing his weight about decades past his best-before date. And the great Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as Bart and Cole, a nasty pair of grown-up Beavis and Butthead nephews who typify the behaviour of all the men in the film – dumb, one-track, incapable of independent action and (on the whole) mean. Lovely film; lose one scoop of Americana and it’d be a great one.
Fill the Void (Artificial Eye, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)
Films with a Jane Austen arc – can love win out against suffocating social pressure? – only work in a world where marriage is more of a communal than a personal choice, where people still do things the old way. Which is the case with this very Austenesque Israeli romance set in the tight world of Hasidic Jewry. Telling the story of attractive young Shira (Hadas Yaron) who is betrothed to the older Yochay (Yiftach Klein) – formerly married to Shira’s now dead sister – Rama Burshtein’s drama is not only intimate and delicate but it takes a lot of care not to frighten the horses. It’s shot with lots of light and air, frequently a touch of soft focus. It presents scenes of female domestic drudgery, segregation at the synagogue, the entirely patriarchal system of power and control, as essentially benign, for the greater good, considered and wise. Its two potential lovers are both nice people. They are attractive. Yochay, we see in early scenes with the wife who is later to perish, is a bit of a softy at heart – he tells her he loves her – and from the reaction on her face we can tell this is both welcome and surprising. The film’s strength, though, comes not from this positive spinning of the sort of cultural difference many people might not treasure but from the way Burshtein just drops us in among this community and leaves us to work out what’s going on. It makes for a fascinating film, a glimpse inside a world that few of us have any experience of. And the will they/won’t they story is pretty sweet too.
The Story of Yonosuke (Third Window, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Shuichi Okita directed The Woodsman and the Rain a couple of years ago – a comedy about a blunt old lumberjack striking up a friendship with a young film director – and the same good-natured tone saturates this follow-up. Tracking the progress of the apparently comedically named Yonosuke through a largely charmed life, Okita gives us a portrait of a young student so wildly optimistic and naive that he enthralls everyone he meets. Like Woodsman, this is an almost-comedy of awkwardness so lacking in malice that it resembles its lead character. Kengo Kora does an amazing job as Yonosuke, a character with a solid position on the Asperger’s scale (or possibly he’s just terribly dim), a young man whose good looks mean he doesn’t struggle for female company even though he seems to have no carnal desires – the scene where he and his “girlfriend” discuss whether they are actually dating pretty much sums up the whole film. Which is not to suggest that it’s a romance. It isn’t. Instead it’s a long and meditative study of the effect of one man on a whole lot of other people, which saves a gigantic reveal for the end. Very sweet, very unusual, very Japanese.
Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie (Fox, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital)
The movie-length adaptation of the BBC series seems to be terrified not of gigantic ancient beasties but of knowledge. Forgetting that young kids can be parked in front of anything dinosaur and won’t notice if a nuclear bomb goes off nearby, the producers have chosen to sex up the palaeontology with Ice Age smarts – enter John Leguizamo (he was Sid the Sloth) as the voice of Alex, the prehistoric bird and our kiddie-friendly guide. Leguizamo is an alert presence, and Justin Long does good work too as the voice of Patchi, the young Pachyrhinosaur whose Bambi-like progress toward adulthood gives the film its structure. It’s unbearably cute at times, with CG work that’s competent rather than jaw-dislocating (much as the TV series was). But shots of dinosaurs just going about their daily business are fascinating, it is all mildly educational, and it’s unafraid to show the odd bit of nastiness – one animal killing another. The name Karl Urban on the credits can be ignored – he only tops and tails the story as a dad trying to get his kids interested in old dino-bones.
Getaway (Warner, cert 12, DVD)
Getaway is a film with a Speed-style premise – one guy driving a car around Sofia, Bulgaria. If he stops, he dies. Ethan Hawke plays the guy, an ex racing driver. Selena Gomez is the Keanu Reeves to his Sandra Bullock, or should that be the other way round? It doesn’t matter much, because what Getaway is really about is stunt driving. Director Courtney Solomon has chosen to shoot these stunts in an unusual way. Instead of storyboarding each one out, then painstakingly filming them bit by bit, and then assembling all the bits in the editing suite, he’s shot each pile-up, air-spin or drift in real time, on multiple cameras, then taken the footage from those cameras and tried to assemble something convincing in post production. Does it work? It does not. In fact the only single bit of really exciting stuntorama comes right near the end of the film – a single point-of-view shot of a car hurtling along the roads at dawn. Should I mention the characters? Well, there aren’t any to speak of. Hawke pulls a feel-my-backstory face; Gomez can’t do much with the rich-bitch character she’s been given, though Solomon’s camera does emphasise her pouty hamster cheeks, which might be a bit of character shading, or possibly Solomon just has a grudge. As for the big reveal at the end, about the actual identity of the Mr Big behind this mad dash around an Eastern European capital, that’s not even faintly awesome. In fact Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is the only real winner in this attempt to pick up a few crumbs off the Fast and Furious plate.
© Steve Morrissey 2014