Out in the UK This Week
Winter Sleep (New Wave, cert 15)
The Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest thing of recalcitrant beauty is three hours long and breaks down neatly into three acts, each about an hour in length. In act one we meet Aydin, a progressive baby-boomer with a bit of money, a local luminary, a former actor, a newspaper columnist, a soft touch. Winter Sleep follows him, much in the way Michael Haneke did with Hidden, as that nice liberal carapace is pressure-tested, in Aydin’s case when the son of one of his tenants breaks his car window with a stone. Tenants? Yes, that’s how come Aydin is so comfortable, the opinions, liberal views and so on flowing from the fact that he has a big fat cushion of cash around him, though Aydin might have you believe that it’s the wealth that has flowed from the humanist philosophy, not vice versa. This is a biblical leviathan of a film, shot in Ceylan’s panoramic slow, photographic style and using the strange beehive structures of the snowy Cappadochian town of Uçhisar to strangely beautiful effect, though all of the central section of the film takes place indoors, where Aydin (a Mastroianni-like performance of addled angst by Haluk Bilginer) is psychologically filleted in scenes of Bergmann-esque excavation, turning out to be less of a nice guy than he seemed, first by his sister (Demet Akbag) and then by his wife (Melisa Sözen). Don’t expect fireworks; this is more depth charge than tracer bullets. But the scale and ambition is remarkable. At some level Ceylan is taking on the whole of western civilisation, and the winter sleep Ceylan is referring to might be an apocalyptic one.
Paddington (StudioCanal, cert PG)
Michael Bond’s bear from darkest Peru arrives on screen in a carefully constructed and smartly written comedy with enough depth to make it probably endlessly rewatchable. From Will Hay and Norman Wisdom through to Mr Bean and even the mighty Inbetweeners in their second film, the reliance on a physical gag and a broad wink of “it’s all just a bit of fun” insouciance has always been the bane of British comedy. But Paddington gets it entirely right – pantomime mixed in with a Mary Poppins Edwardian cosiness, a bit of zany, Hard Day’s Night imagination off the leash, as the accident-prone animated bear moves seamlessly around a live-action London of red double-deckers in the company of the entirely charming adoptive Brown family (headed by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as if they were David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns). Best of all, director Paul King (hitherto best known for directing TV’s The Mighty Boosh) has made sure everyone has got the memo – Nicole Kidman plays the museum owner intent on capturing Paddington as an evil Julie Andrews, Peter Capaldi, as the Browns’ busybody neighbour, is clearly doing Harry H Corbett. And if the script lays on references to immigrants being made to feel welcome a little doth-protestily, there are bijou jokes (Kidman has a little “Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible” moment) which are well judged and don’t overstay their welcome. There is a tiny gripe to be had and it’s about the boxy acoustic of Ben Whishaw’s voice as Paddington, possibly because he was recorded after Colin Firth had been dropped after filming had wrapped. It’s a minor niggle and won’t ruin this lovely and funny film, which we will all probably now continue to watch until the end of time.
Two Night Stand (Signature, cert 15)
A screwball comedy with all the important action taking place in a single room, where a boy meets girl/loses girl couple trade quips and bodily fluids. That’s right, a sex comedy that’s actually about sex. It’s Generation Tinder stuff, with the second wrinkle being that it’s the girl who is pursuing boy for string-free coupling, the two of them only actually meeting cute once the deed has been done and she’s about to leave – but she’s snowed in, damnabbit, by what the delighted local weather people are calling “Apocalypse Snow”. I’ve seen some “meh” reviews for this film, but can’t for the life of me work out why the half-heartedness – it’s Miles Teller (man of the moment after Whiplash) and Analeigh Tipton (on the verge of stardom for some time), as the pair of bright, sparky and chemically believable fuck acquaintances. “Buddies” is overdoing the familiarity. The dialogue is smart, the sex is erotic though not sticky and most of all it’s about people pulled one way by the laws of attraction and the other way by the screenplay. I saw it as an updated Dick Van Dyke Show episode, only partly because Tipton has a Mary Tyler Moore mouth and zippety-zing delivery, though I don’t think Dick and Mary ever had a scene where they discussed the difficulty of achieving simultaneous orgasm. Sure, there’s a New York tendency to gabble here and there, but director Max Nichols (son of Mike, master of films built around fraught sexual relationships – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, for two) offers as recompense the odd deliberate moment of Breakfast at Tiffany’s throwback, Henry Mancini screwball vamp and all. So, yes, very good. “Meh” be damned.
The Homesman (E One, cert 15)
The Homesman is Tommy Lee Jones’s second western as director. His first one, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, was handsome looking and comprised individually powerful scenes, but it had a problem with the narrative – there wasn’t much of one – which Jones obscured by messing about with the film’s chronology. The Homesman is also a fine looking film and it also has a narrative problem. This time it’s both less and more serious. But first a bit of plot. Hilary Swank plays the pious plain Jane who volunteers to take three women driven insane by the hard pioneering life back east for some unspecified treatment; Jones is a hard-drinking rapscallion in the Lee Marvin mould whom she co-opts into helping after rescuing him from death at the end of a noose. And off they head, these two, with the three insane women and a wagon and a couple of horses, through injun country and bandit country, and so on. For all its Clint Eastwood taciturnity and straightforwardness (no jumbled chronology this time out), this is more like one of those John Wayne westerns in which the Duke puts Maureen O’Hara over his knee. Except here it’s Swank doing the spanking and Jones taking his medicine. All very fine, and it makes for an amiable, finely acted tables-turned western in the high style, the shifting seasons of New Mexico beautifully caught by the camera of Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Argo, Wolf of Wall Street). And it’s entirely satisfying right up until the final stretch, when Jones the director and co-writer allows Jones the actor the sort of finale that the film has not prepared us for. In spite of the fact it’s called The Homesman, this is clearly a film about Swank’s character, not Jones’s. And if you come away, as I did, feeling robbed because of this confusion about who is the star and who the support, Jones has to live with the fact that he’s let something approaching a classic stumble on the home stretch.
King of Escape (Peccadillo, cert 18)
A first release in Anglophone countries of Alain Guiraudie’s 2009 film, off the back of last year’s entirely successful Stranger at the Lake (one of the best films of the year). Again it’s a gay movie, and again it sits so entirely within that world that it also isn’t. Its hero, Armand (Ludovic Berthillot) is a dumpy middle-aged gay tractor salesman with an affectless demeanour matching Guiraudie’s deadpan modus operandi. After Armand rescues a pretty underage teenage girl (excellent Hafsia Herzi) from some lairy youths one night, he forms an erotic relationship with her, and encourages her to run away with him to start a new life. The running could be seen as a metaphor for a man trying to escape his sexuality, but that is to underestimate Guiraudie, who is not interested in banging the identity-politics drum. Instead he gives us a doomed, crazed comedy in which the gay element is entirely natural – scenes of men cottaging in lay-bys are neither erotic, nor exotic, nor scandalous, this is just what gay men do. And there’s a maudlin streak offsetting the more Benny Hill comedic element as Armand tries to square up to middle age, and the increasing sense that, for him, faceless sex with men at the roadside might not be enough. As with Stranger at the Lake, it’s clear from the first shot that whatever else Guiraudie is, he’s technically an artist – every frame, lens choice, angle and edit and the way these are integrated into the soundscape and soundtrack leads in one direction, towards a satisfying, quirky, soulful dramedy. The 18 certificate, in case you’re feeling squeamish, is for naked female not male flesh, by the way.
To Write Love on Her Arms (Sony, cert 15)
A real-life self-help screed about the self-harming drug-addicted Renee Yohe and how she found her way out of the dark place, and incidentally about the foundation created in her name to help those like her. Kat Dennings can do little wrong in my book, and as Yohe helps lift a film that stays too true to the young woman’s story and in the process starts to lose itself in detail – we don’t need to know that much about her old friends, really we don’t. More to the point, the film loses sight of the fact that people on drugs are boring, and that films about them are at their best when they’re “there but for the grace of god go I” rather than “behold the degradation”. Let’s say some nice stuff – Rupert Friend again proves his mettle as one of the guys trying to help her get clean, and there is a fascinating central section which almost but not quite starts dealing with the notion of the professionalisation of charity, and the negative effects of the bleeding-heart lobby on society. Then it’s back to drugs-bad/sobriety-good, and the feeling of being clobbered by a Christian tract.
Horrible Bosses 2 (Warner, cert 15)
Horrible Bosses 1 starred Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as three guys who had horrible bosses. The bosses – including Jennifer Aniston as a sexaholic dentist and Kevin Spacey as a boss with an incendiary temper – were spectacularly unpleasant and were by a long way the funniest part of the film. When the bosses weren’t on, speaking scripted lines of amazing but highly amusing awfulness, the three guys indulged in largely unscripted goofing about in protracted scenes which boiled down, essentially, to one guy shouting over another. There’s plenty more of that in this sequel that busts an aorta to justify Aniston’s and Spacey’s presence this time around. Actually, it doesn’t – it’s only credibility that’s stretched, and the wages bill. So, we get to hear Aniston say “veiny cock” and “helmet” and I think at one point offering to let Bateman take a dump on her chest, or was she going to take one on his? And in the prison where he is now incarcerated, we hear Spacey’s character going on stratospheric cuss-filled rages. These bits are undeniably funny. As for the rest of it – the three guys shout over each other again and generally behave like the Three Stooges. That’s not a good thing. However, I did laugh once, heartily. It was over an exchange in the outtakes between Bateman and Sudeikis. I’m smiling about it now writing this.
© Steve Morrissey 2015