Out in the UK this Week
The Heat (Fox, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
There aren’t many female buddy-cop comedies. This one, directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), recalls the Lethal Weapon antics of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and stars Sandra Bullock as the one trying to play it by the book, and Melissa McCarthy as the out and out slob prepared to take any risk because, hell, law and order is a dirty old business. Suit pants versus sweat pants, basically, with a plot that’s immaterial – it has something to do with guns and drugs, as per – but it’s just enough to bus the girls from one amusing set piece to the next, with Bullock and McCarthy doing what looks like a lot of improv riffing as they go. Along the way it stops for set pieces that look like they have been ordered in by somebody’s people – the initially distrustful duo bond over a night of drinking, the disco scene where McCarthy has to refashion Bullock’s uptight outfit so she can fit in, the scene where they hang a guy off a fire escape by his feet. They’re funny enough, but they pale next to the rest of it, the bits where Bullock and McCarthy basically lean back and call each other names. The language is ripe, it is foul and it is very funny. And what really helps this film become the funniest comedy I’ve seen in a long time is the strength of the support cast – again and again scenes which would be throwaways in lesser comedies become belters thanks to inspired casting and playing by even the bittiest of bit players.
The Wall (New Wave, cert 12, DVD)
A woman on holiday in picture-postcard Austria one day bumps into an invisible wall while walking down the road. Everything else in the world seems normal, but she can’t get through this barrier. People on the other side seem to be frozen still. As Martina Gedeck, in almost constant voiceover, recounts what happened over the next few days, weeks, months and… well it looks like years… the notion that The Wall is some kind of offbeat sci-fi is gradually replaced by the realisation that it is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, played out by a woman instead of a man, and on an “island” in the middle of a landlocked country. It’s an unusual, simple and fascinating film which, like the Tom Hanks Cast Away movie – except prettier – offers us at first little more than the sight of a human being doing the necessary to keep body and soul together. But then it goes a step further, and we watch our castaway forming relationships with the animals also stuck on the inside of the bubble she’s in and wondering about what it means to be human, adjusting to her fate. And that’s it – simple, beguiling, a real gem.
The Broken Circle Breakdown (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)
I remember thinking at one point that this film was going to be another of those “and then the kid dies of cancer” movies. Which is what it looked like for a while. I suspect that even as a terminal-illness weepie it would be a good one, because of its basic set-up – she’s a much-tattooed woman forming a love-at-first-sight relationship with a Flemish bluegrass singer, joins the band, marries him, has kid, kid gets cancer. But because of scrambled chronology which pushes the themes (love, religion, rationalism) rather than the plot to the fore, this drama has a real emotional tug. It has several things in its favour – Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh’s entirely convincing performances, Ruben Impens’s exquisitely careful cinematography, which just amplifies ever so slightly what’s going on. And the music – those bluegrass harmonies are bewitching and Baetens can really sing.
The World’s End (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
The last of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (along with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) sees Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s characters off pub-crawling with zombies in the town of their birth. It’s a “getting the gang back together” comedy that mines the first film for attitude and the second film for observations on smalltown life. The zombie idea – are they technically zombies? Alien zombies perhaps? – is a brilliant metaphor for that feeling of returning to your home town and finding everything just as you left it yet entirely different. And the first half of the film works that territory expertly. But it’s when the zombies/aliens/whatever finally announce themselves that the film seems to run out of jokes. I suppose they were all used up by Shaun of the Dead.
Red 2 (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
So, the gang of Retired Extremely Dangerous operatives is re-assembled, again, with Willis, Mirren, Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker joined by Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins (the ham is hanging from the rafters) for a multi-national plot in which military hardware, car chases and absurd villains vie for screen time. Two things early on set the tone – the opening shot is of a supermarket trolley with a wonky wheel. Shortly afterwards we meet Steven Berkoff in chinkie-Chinaman make-up – he’s only missing the Charlie Chan moustache. There are a lot of these films around at the moment – how long before a film with the title Superannuated 1980s Action Hero hits the screens? But if the first Red film spent so much time winking to the camera that it forgot to actually nod to a plot, this sequel has learnt from those mistakes. As per the last one, much of the humour is of the “aren’t we a bit old for this shit” variety. But a cast this illustrious really does know how to polish what in lesser hands would be a turd, there’s some sensationally over the top carnage, the heroes are improbably indestructible and everyone involved seems to be having fun. I think they might squeeze one more of these out before the joke goes flat. Quick, quick, The Expendables 17 is probably already mapped out in Sylvester Stallone’s Psion Organiser.
Despicable Me 2 (Universal, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)
Despicable Me 1 was a complete movie. The villain, Gru (as in Gruesome, I imagine), had by the end of it become the good guy. The arc was completed, the story was done. So what are writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio going to have Gru do in the sequel? The answer is: they don’t have the faintest idea. The baldie Dr Evil approximation is ostensibly the focus, but the plot about Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to deal with some super-villain is thin at best. And the romantic sub-plot featuring Lucy (voice: Kristen Wiig) doesn’t ding many dongs either. In some respects this sequel is about Gru’s Minions – the squeaky little fellas who are soon to get their own spinoff movie. But really DM2 isn’t about them either. Luckily for Paul and Daurio, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud are also back on board and they do have a plan – fill the film with the sort of animated mayhem that Chuck Jones used to pack the Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry and Roadrunner shorts with. This makes for inspired moments, and they crop up often enough that you can almost forget that the story is… just a bit meh.
Heaven’s Gate Restored (Second Sight, cert 15, Blu-ray)
A good, long, immersive film telling the story of a rich Harvard guy (Kris Kristofferson) who becomes the champion of the poor out in the wild wild West, Heaven’s Gate was butchered by the studio then filleted by the critics when it was first released in 1980. Directed by Michael Cimino – who was given a bottomless budget after the success of The Deer Hunter – the film destroyed United Artists and brought to a close the New Hollywood era of grown-up films directed by dope-smoking long-hairs. So here it is back at epic length, thanks to a fabulous restoration job (you used to be able to see the joins – not any more), and it’s immediately clear from the very first sequence, a huge, impressive crowd scene set in Harvard, what Cimino is up to. An hour and a half (of three and a half hours) later – every scene a money shot, every scrap of scene-setting requiring hundreds of extras, immensely complicated camera shots, amazing sets and John Ford locations – and the pomp of the whole thing has become oppressive. It’s also around this time that another of the film’s shortcomings becomes abundantly clear – Kris Kristofferson is a Mount Rushmore of a man, but he’s no actor. He can’t do interiority. And he needs to be able to do it because his character is so badly underwritten. As are all the characters in this film – John Hurt, as the gilded Harvard youth gone badly to drink, a young Christopher Walken warming up Johnny Depp’s cheekbones and much of his acting style, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Waterston, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke (when he still had a light, pleasant voice). That is an immense cast of talent, so good they go some way towards repairing the deficiencies in the writing. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography goes most of the rest of the way, this surely being a contender for the best photographed film ever made. For Zsigmond’s skill, talent, graft and the huge budget that must have been lavished on his set-ups alone, this film is a must-watch. As for the rest of it, it’s OK, it’s fine, neither the revealed masterpiece that some claim nor a calamitous mess.
© Steve Morrissey 2013