Out in the UK this week
Bullet to the Head (Entertainment One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
Last week it was Arnie in The Last Stand. This week the DVD shelves are groaning with 400lbs of mechanically recovered Sylvester Stallone, complete with new facelift and hair (though there’s not much you can do about that creaky old gait). It’s a dick-swinging action movie directed by Walter Hill, who memorably gave us 48 Hours. Bullet to the Head is 48 Hours part two, you could say, with Sly as the criminal being partnered by reluctant cop buddy (the rather good though underused Sung Kang) to take down a bad guy (Christian Slater, sneering at 16:9 ratio). That’s all you need to know about the plot. What you do need to know is what you probably already suspected – this is in most respects a 1980s movie. Which means gratuitous explosions and gratuitous nudity, it means that warehouses feature more than seems necessary. And there’s cars, cars on fire, in fact. Which is, let’s face it, all a lot of fun. The plot could be summarised as “let’s go get ’em”. And as for that relationship, well why is a decent cop hanging out with a hitman? The film isn’t sure either and has to stop every ten minutes to remind us. Or maybe itself. There is the odd good line – “you had me at ‘fuck you’ ” made me smile. And there are tasty New Orleans locations which allow Sly to get a bit Sailor Jerry with the tattoos, and let Walter Hill break out the extreme macho posturing. He does love a bit of machismo, dear old Walter.
I Give it a Year (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Dan Mazer was involved in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno films and is the writer/director of what is to all intents and purposes an anti-Richard Curtis romcom – Loathe, Actually? – the tale of a married couple (Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne) who really aren’t suited to each other and who spend an entire film finding this out the hard way. As a formal exercise I Give It a Year is very good indeed. As a film it stinks. There may be a way of doing an anti-romcom but this isn’t it, and watching two people fall out of love is neither instructive nor enjoyable. Especially when, to make both parties equally culpable, Mazer has decided to make them equally unlikeable. Spall plays a needy whingebag, Byrne is an anal bitch. Meanwhile, hovering on the edge of this couple’s world are Simon Baker and Anna Faris – both not unadjacent to loveliness – so no prizes for guessing what’s going to happen there. I suspect that what Mazer actually contributed to Baron Cohen’s films was jokes. Because the comedy writing in this film is very very funny indeed. And here the support cast deserve a mention – Stephen Merchant as a filthy perv, Minnie Driver as a terrible scold, a brilliant Jason Flemyng as a henpecked husband and Olivia Colman a mentally inappropriate relationship counsellor – they all make spit-out-your-dinner lines even funnier. In fact I Give It a Year must rank as the funniest terrible film I’ve ever seen. What you do with that recommendation, I don’t know.
Flight (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/download)
The one where Denzel flies the plane upside down. And yes, it is an amazing sequence, and is preceded by an almost-as-amazing sequence, also of improbable flying prowess. And before that there’s been an even more eye-opening scene, in which we’ve seen our noble capable captain wake up drunk after a night of extreme party action, take a line of coke, a slug of beer and – adjusting bloodshot eyes and setting captain’s cap to jaunty – go to work.
Robert Zemeckis directed Back to the Future and Polar Express, so it’s almost a given that he can deliver scenes of extreme SFX mayhem and believability. Here he also does an expert job, as does screenplay writer John Gatins, in delaying the dropping of the other shoe. Because no captain of a Hollywood blockbuster can fly a plane in that condition and not be punished for it. And so it comes to pass that Captain Denzel is exposed and humbled, and that Robert Zemeckis’s film turns from a visceral action movie into something entirely different – a hand-wringing Douglas Sirk drama about moral choices. Personally, I found that disappointing. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of goodness in here – from the opening shots of Nadine Velazquez not putting her clothes on particularly quickly to John Goodman as a wild man of drugs (theme song the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter), to Don Cheadle as Denzel’s nemesis. And that’s without mentioning DW himself, who is brilliant drunk, sober, exultant and self-loathing. Personally I’d rather have seen a film about an amazing captain who can fly a plane better than anyone else, even when his body is a awash with proscribed substances. But Hunter S Thompson is no longer around to write that screenplay. You, on the other hand, might prefer the morality play.
Blood for Irina (Autonomy, cert 18, DVD)
A poacher turned gamekeeper turn from Chris Alexander, editor in chief of the magazine and horror institution Fangoria, who has made a vampire film. And, because he’s got the background, he’s chosen to go esoteric, working in the tradition of Jesús Franco (The Awful Dr Orlof, Vampyros Lesbos) and Jean Rollin (Requiem for a Vampire). The interest in lesbians (the former) and the surreal (the latter) are noticeable in a story that might be called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Vampire. So don’t expect much rushing around or screaming – this is a slow gothic tale, horror taken at the pace of ambient music, static almost. A baby doll floats in a lake, a plastic bag hangs mournfully in a tree, sort of thing. I’d describe it as arthouse but in truth it’s more artschool, Alexander hitting the spot in terms of mood not quite as often as his evident talent would suggest he should be.
Smashed (Sony, cert 15, DVD)
A short film with made-for-TV looks and a “disease of the week” theme. The theme being alcoholism. But it’s no trudge through the usual. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a teacher and Aaron Paul her stay-at-home husband, both partying, late-20somethings whose boozy lifestyle hits the buffers when she throws up in class one day, hideously hung-over. So she stops drinking. But he doesn’t. What then plays out is an unusually non-moralistic, unsentimental drama that has the balls to say that being drunk is a lot of fun – so that’s why people do it! – but that sometimes you just really have to stop. Frankly written, often very funny, Smashed also really benefits by having Winstead in it. Surely she’s only minutes away from total stardom.
For Ellen (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
Anyone for a drama about a mopey dad trying to have one last moment of tenderness with his daughter before his impending divorce separates them for ever? No, it is a hard sell, but if there’s one reason why you should see For Ellen it’s for the performance of Paul Dano, who plays the not-quite-successful rocker travelling off to the snowy wastes of Canada, where his weekend of waiting for the final encounter gives him plenty of time to think about himself. If you only know Dano as a vaguely familiar face from Looper or Meek’s Cutoff or There Will Be Blood, this is an eye-opener, as he is telling the story of one man teetering on the precipice of maturity almost entirely through subtle facial gesture.
Wreck-It Ralph (Disney, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
There seems to have been some consensus that Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t quite know who it’s aimed at, and therefore it’s not really that good. I agree that it isn’t quite aimed at a specific demographic, but its conception and its animation are so extraordinary that the rest pales into insignificance. It is the story of Ralph, the baddie in an arcade game who is sick of playing second banana to Fix-it Felix. So off Ralph sallies, into other arcade games from different eras, until he ends up in the candy-coloured world of Sugar Rush, for an adventure that plays out like Wacky Races by way of The Wizard of Oz. John C Reilly voices the big ham-fisted Ralph, Sarah Silverman plays the grrrrl he’s helping out in Sugar Rush, while Jane Lynch plays Sergeant Calhoun, the butch bitch built of leather and swarf who is picked up on Ralph’s dash through a shoot-em-up called Hero’s Duty. You can pick holes – the big idea is Toy Story (while the humans are away, the inanimates will play) and Ralph seems modelled on Shrek. But the screenplay has such depth, the story is so expertly spun and the allusions (Alien, Star Wars, King Kong, even Laurel and Hardy) are handled with such a light touch that I reckon we’re in the presence of near-greatness. Is it for grown-up 1980s gamers or their eight-year-old kids? Both. File alongside Elf for a film undervalued on release whose stature will grow.
© Steve Morrissey 2013