Out This Week
Disorder (Soda, cert 15)
Like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Disorder is a love story masquerading as something else – a home-invasion thriller, in this case – and so is the perfect date movie for traditionally minded peeps. The casting is bang on. Matthias Schoenaerts, an expert in beefy angst, is ideal as a security guard with PTSD falling for trophy wife Diane Kruger – Kruger’s “because I’m worth it” ex-model coolness actually being a real advantage here. The bit of posh going for a bit of rough is hardly a new idea, but director/writer Alice Winocour stokes the tension early on, setting many scenes in tight little corners, and even when she doesn’t her camera is up close to the face. As for the home-invasion element, it’s brilliantly suggested that this is nothing less than the growing feeling between these two people, no less of a threat than actual living malefactors because Kruger is the wife of an arms dealer, a man it doesn’t do to be on the wrong side of. It’s a power ballad with the volume turned down, a film about the torture of falling in love – watch Schoenaerts in all sorts of mental torment when one of his security buddies turns up and starts flirting outrageously with his employer. As to actual plot details, I’m not convinced that we need to know anything about the arms dealer’s nefarious goings-on, just so long as we know he’s shady and someone’s out to get him. There’s just a bit more plot here – Schoenaerts and Kruger going through incriminating documents and so on – than seems strictly necessary. That’s a niggle, a piffling one, which won’t ruin a drama that’s been beautifully conceived, crafted and played.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (Dogwoof, cert 18)
The “look at the pictures” line is from US senator Jesse Helms who, as the curtain is rising on Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary, is standing in front of Congress with a series of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs – among them the one with a big black cock hanging out of a pair of trousers in the snap amusingly titled Polyester Suit, another a self-portrait of photographer Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip up his ass – urging the government to ban them on the grounds that they are obscene. What follows is a meat and potatoes – if you’ll forgive the expression – “life and work” documentary about Mapplethorpe, with talking heads of friends and family, telling us how a madly ambitious bright kid went to art school, graduated in 1967, went to live with his girlfriend Patti Smith in the Chelsea Hotel in 1969 and then, in the 1970s, came into his own after graduating from making collages using porn (because no one else was doing it) to shooting the porn himself (because it was cheaper than buying the stuff). We get plenty of good gossip about life in 1970s NY, from the likes of Debbie Harry and Fran Lebowitz. We meet some of the people he photographed – Ken Moody and Robert Sherman, the yin and yan black and white guys in a series of photo studies – and we hear about Sam Wagstaff, the rich older lover who enabled Robert Mapplethorpe’s career. Along the way we learn of the dark side – that he was only interested in people if they could help him, and hear of his ruthlessness from old lovers, his younger brother (still clearly a loving sibling in spite of shabby treatment). But as for discussion of the work itself, there’s only the “we’re not worthies” of curators and the like, and not a single voice on the sidelines to add shade and, dare I say, make things more interesting – Mapplethorpe’s quality control in technical terms was simply bad and when he had nothing else to say he’d reach for kitsch classical Greece and Rome. It’s a useful reference work for anyone wanting an introduction to the man and his milieu but it’s perhaps most valuable in capturing the moment – though this is only dealt with in passing – when photography emerged from beyond the pail to become a valued, and valuable method of artistic production. Mapplethorpe’s career – early 1970s to his death in 1989 – tracked, fuelled and was made by that development.
Dr Strangelove (Criterion, cert PG)
I only intended to watch five minutes of this Criterion restoration of Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear satire, just to see how good the picture quality was, then stayed to watch the whole thing. We all know the story – a crazed US army general (Sterling Hayden) launches a rogue attack on the USSR, which triggers the response of their unstoppable Doomsday machine… kaboom. What I’d forgotten is how explicatory the film is. But what explication! In scene after scene of brilliantly written dialogue – hawkish General Buck Turgidson to his love-toy secretary, mad General Ripper to British wingman Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), bomb-carrying B52 captain Major “King” Kong to his flight crew, Turgidson to President Merkin Muffley (Sellers again), Soviet ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) to the President, then finally doomsday adviser Dr Strangelove to everyone assembled in the war room – we are carefully guided down through circles of hell from absolute innocence towards inevitable total annihilation. It’s shot in black and white, and perfectly, so carefully judged that it has a newsreel veracity to this day, it is awesomely tight and fast – it may be wordy but they all count – and the casting is so good that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the roles. Notice, for example, Tracy Reed, the only woman in the film, only in it for five minutes, yet her character is vital and Reed plays her with depth, charm and intelligence. Sellers’ three roles dominate the film, but Sterling Hayden and George C Scott as the two bullish generals – one obviously nuts, the other only a squeak away – give as good as they get, and everyone involved understands how to play satire – never, ever let on it’s a comedy. OK, so maybe Sellers as Strangelove – one half failed Nazi experiment, one half Henry Kissinger in utero – missed that memo.
The Violators (Bulldog, cert 15)
Shot on the forlorn streets where Birkenhead dock-working families used to live, debut writer/director Helen Walsh’s grim-up-north drama has lots going for it, but it’s the instant-star turn by Lauren McQueen that really earns it a right to be seen. She plays feisty beautiful teenager Shelly, a girl who early on is offered drugs for “a suck”, and from the disdainful look on her face this is not the first time. So when grimy pawn shop owner Mikey (Stephen Lord) sets his cap at her, she at first gives him the cold shoulder, until he starts to tantalise her with hints that he can help her escape this mean locale. Over the road from Shelly’s house, meanwhile, is handsome and around-the-same-age Kieran (Liam Ainsworth), a fine upstanding member of the cadets who has an eye for Shelly, as she has for him, if she’d only admit it. And floating on the fringe is Rachel (Brogan Ellis), a strange kid from the right side of the tracks who insists on being Shelly’s new best friend, in spite of the fact that they have little in common. Something, we sense, is amiss here. In some senses Shameless without the humour, the drama finally kicks into some sort of shape when we learn that Shelly’s sexually abusive dad is about to be let out of prison, forcing her into decision time – run off with Mikey, or at the very least accept his protection in return for sex on the back seat of his Range Rover, or turn to Kieran, or even possibly Rachel. It’s a beautifully made film – its expressionistic sound design really stands out – though it’s a touch in thrall to the bleak allure of the drill-straight streets of Birkenhead, which slows things down a touch, and maybe it isn’t working against those kitchen-sink stereotypes quite as hard as it thinks it is. But if it’s anything it’s a starmaking vehicle for McQueen, whose every gesture means something. Poor Brogan Ellis, no mean actress herself, can’t keep up.
The End of the Tour (Sony, cert 15)
In the mid-1990s Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky went on a five day road trip with newly hot writer David Foster Wallace, shortly after the publication of the book that had made his name – Infinite Jest. After a run of book signings and long talks back at Wallace’s base, meeting students at the lit course he taught and a few of his friends and fellow road warriors, Lipsky returned to base and transcribed the interview, then turned it into his piece, and then a book of his own, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. The End of the Tour essentially does that transcription yet again, inserting Jesse Eisenberg into proceedings as Lipsky and Jason Segel as the shambling bandana-wearing Wallace, a man happy to talk about pretty much anything. And that’s what the film is – talk – about the joys of trashy food and Die Hard, dogs versus girlfriends, journalism versus real writing, the underlying theme being the simulacrum versus the real, and the one below that being “how to live the good life”. It’s a fascinating film, even if you don’t dig Wallace. And, just as you’re getting to the “is this it?” point, it starts to develop into a psychodrama. As the road trip continues, Lipsky’s journalistic need to play cute with his interviewee, laugh too much at his jokes and be generally overweening starts to shade into something darker. Does Lipsky want to be Wallace? Both actors bring much to the roles, though in different ways. Eisenberg excels at playing creepy nice guys – see The Social Network – who’ve turned passive aggressive behaviour into an art. Segel, too, is interesting, as a vastly intelligent man who hides behind a wall of chat, of quips, of cow-eyes, all the while manoeuvring, sumo-like, for domination. The film worships at the altar of Wallace without ever quite telling us why we should. Though this verbatim technique does get us close and we do actually edge towards the artist – how he thought, why he wrote – and that’s pretty damn unusual.
Landmine Goes Click (Icon, cert 18)
Is Landmine Goes Click a failure? That depends on what you think it is. Because it starts out as one thing and ends up as another. The simple premise is as follows: three friends are out hiking in Georgia (former Soviet Union). Two men, one woman. Alicia and Daniel are an item. But Alicia has also, we learn in an opening piece of dialogue, been sleeping with fellow vacationer Chris, and now regrets it. Within minutes Chris has stood on an unexploded landmine. If he takes his foot off it, he’s toast. The landmine has been planted by Daniel, we learn an instant later, and at this point there’s not much point in telling you much more, except to say that a local turns up to help, but there’s a price that help and it’s extracted from blonde, leggy Alicia – this is presumably karmic payback by the gods of genre for her infidelity. In this role, as the randy Georgian – all smiles one minute, threats the next – Kote Tolordava proves to be the making of the movie, which runs through a few clichés about the former Soviet bloc (lawless, uncouth) as it teases out a series of powerplays between all concerned. It also doesn’t hurt that the hairy, lairy Tolordova resembles porn-hedgehog Ron Jeremy a touch. This is a well made film on the horns of a dilemma – its USP is its title and it isn’t really about that. There’s a second plot, though it would be spoilerish of me to reveal what it is, suffice to say the whole film would have been improved if it had got to it quicker. However, Landmine Goes Click is loaded with the atmosphere of an area where Eastern Europe shades into landscapes of fairytale beauty. Its soundtrack – tolling, brooding noises rather than music as such – is memorable and effective too. There are good things here.
The Girl King (Peccadillo, cert 15)
A Swedish film about a very Swedish subject – Queen Kristina, the 17th-century monarch who dragged her country towards humanism and away from the clerics. Greta Garbo is most famous for playing the role, in the 1933 film of the same name (though they spell it Christina). And it’s interesting that in Malin Buska, who plays Kristina this time around, there are clear reminders of Garbo – the stillness, the sense of melodrama in the features. It is, as films set in royal courts often are, all about intrigue, though the intrigue in this case is manifold – many of Kristina’s court are against her because she is a moderniser and a woman, there are international forces out to weaken her, religious interests who are unhappy about her turn to humanism or, worse, Catholicism, and then there’s the sexual intrigue when it’s discovered that the monarch has a thing for the ladies. Enter Sarah Gadon, and a piece of information I’ve withheld so far – the film is in English. It’s full of great actors doing a lot of actorly swishing – Michael Nyqvist as the Queen’s Richelieu-like devious Chancellor, Hippolyte Girardot as the devious French ambassador, Martina Gedeck as the Queen’s permanently furious mother – and the location work (particularly at Turku Castle, Finland, standing in for Stockholm’s Kronor Castle) is breathtaking. But something isn’t quite right in The Girl King. There’s a lot of warp (characters, plots) but not much weft, and by the time Mika Kaurismäki’s film declares itself to be over, and has even given us a money shot in the high puritanical style of Carl Theodor Dreyer to convey that we have been watching your actual quality, there’s the distinct feeling of much setting up and not an awful lot of working through. Sumptuous it undoubtedly is, though.
© Steve Morrissey 2016