Out in the UK This Week
The Kings of Summer (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
An immensely smart coming of age film pitched somewhere between Stand By Me and Superbad (ie dark undertow, with jokes). And it’s entirely on the side of the kids, whose decision to go off and live in the woods, leaving their sarcastic, obnoxious, bullying, superior parents clueless as to where they’ve gone, is never presented as the callow act of peeved teenagers. Out in the woods, our junior heroes build a rudimentary house, set about sourcing food (sometimes from supermarket bins), grow wispy beards. Meanwhile the film sets about building a dreamy, trippy, sunny song of summer and innocence, with a sweet soundtrack to match. Balancing drama and comedy brilliantly, pausing here and there for beautifully composed “pillow shots” (they are surely a cineastic reference to Ozu?), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly acted all round, and features starmaking performances by Gabriel Basso, comedic genius Moises Arias and Nick Robinson. It only falters slightly – dialling back from brilliant to merely very good – as it hits the third act, as it struggles to return the guys back to the status quo ante (their initiation into manhood complete), and us back to earth.
The Iceman (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, the contract killer so coolly ruthless he was known as the Iceman, and who operated in the New York area from the 1960s until his arrest in 1986. The big sell of this film being that his family had no idea about how daddy Kuklinski really made his money. It’s a sign of Shannon’s exponential rise, especially since 2011’s Take Shelter, that this fairly small-scale gangster movie can attract stars such as Winona Ryder (the wife), Chris Evans (the psycho that Kuklinski goes into a side business with), Ray Liotta (the gang boss he works for), David Schwimmer (a schlemiel whose bad tache and pony tail mark him out for an early exit) and James Franco (an even sharper exit). As for Shannon’s performance, it’s a real dead-eyed turn, so good that it almost manages to hide the fact that there’s not much of a plot here, other than “guy kills other guys because he’s asked to”. As for an analysis of the Iceman’s psyche, Shannon tries to give us one, but he’s hamstrung slightly by a script that wants to keep us onside – ie it wants to make this a film that sits in the genre marked “gangster” rather than “serial killer”. As I say, watch it for Shannon.
Citadel (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
Here’s a film that’s a lot better than its current 5.3 IMDb rating, starring rising British star Aneurin Barnard as a milquetoast being victimised by hoodie-wearing feral kids in the high rise he has the misfortune to live in. In fact the film opens with Barnard’s wife being somewhat ridiculously done to death by said hoodies, who stick a syringe in her pregnant belly, just to make sure she’s dead, and to make sure we’re appalled. They’re faceless hoodies, by the way, and after a while it becomes slightly more clear that this isn’t a grim British kitchen sinker at all. It’s a grim zombie movie. This becomes totally, abundantly clear once the great James Cosmo turns up as a swearing rancidly angry priest with a mute kid in tow. Priests and mute kids being legal tender in the horror genre. If it’s not an even passable kitchen sinker, Citadel is not perfect as a horror either, though director/writer Ciaran Foy is doing some very interesting things, melding the concrete-cool of Let the Right One In with pissy reek of Attack the Block.
Frankenstein’s Army (E One, cert 18, DVD)
I’ll admit I was slightly struggling for films this week and only picked up Richard Raaphorst’s horror movie because there wasn’t much else about. I’m glad I did. Though initially I was all internal groans – oh god, not another found footage film. This one at least had a novel twist. It was ostensibly shot by a Soviet documentarian following troops as they advance across Poland, chasing the Nazis back towards Berlin. Or was it Czechoslovakia? It doesn’t really matter. And nor does the fact that the found footage idea is not even followed through that rigorously. Because Raaphorst and his co-writers have come up with some ingenious ways of extending the life of the Frankenstein story, in the shape of a descendant of the Baron called Viktor (an energetic, committed Karel Roden), a Nazi taking bits of humans and merging them with all sorts of bits of jetsam. And so we have what looks like a walking washing machine, a teddy bear with a man’s head, half a giant lobster. “Only the Nazis would think of something like this – sewing people together, giving them knives for hands,” says one of the Soviets at one point. It’s a raw piece of nonsense, it really is. But there’s genius in the detail.
Paris-Manhattan (Cinefile, cert 15, DVD)
The films of Woody Allen are a key reference point for this cute French romcom about an attractive, intelligent young woman who has a lot of trouble getting a man. Improbable, I know, but the French seem to be working the Richard Curtis Improbability Machine harder than most right now. Not to mention the Richard Curtis Charm Device. Because this is an immensely likeable if entirely unbelievable piece of fluff, sewn together with real care and attention, featuring the likes of Anita O’Day singing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered on its jazzy soundtrack. Alice Taglioni is its star, the available babe mentioned above, and Patrick Bruel is the Serge Gainsbourg-faced older guy she ends up playing footsie with. Woody Allen turns up in a cameo, looking like he’d been talked into it in the corridor outside, and he’s all over the plot too (a Woody Allen poster on Alice’s wall offers her advice, à la Play It Again Sam, and there are clear plot lifts from his films, some more obvious than others). At some level I clearly shouldn’t be recommending something as cheesy, contrived, manipulative as this, but I do, because of the leads. I liked them therefore I liked it. Simple as.
The Brass Teapot (Koch, cert 15, DVD)
Juno Temple’s breasts. She clearly thinks she can build a career on them. And so does the director of this weird Hollywood drama about a couple whose struggle through the current economic downturn ceases when they find a magic teapot, an Aladdin’s lamp that grants wishes, but only when someone in its proximity feels pain, whether it’s physical, emotional or whatever. Within minutes of the teapot turning up the couple is living the high life and the film is in deep trouble. Is it trying to say nice people shouldn’t be helped out of financial misery? It’s not sure. Is it trying to say that money that’s not properly earned is somehow immoral? It’s not sure of that either. And so it hovers, while Temple and co-star Michael Angarano attempt to hide their desperation and the director’s eye tracks the clock towards the magic 90 minutes. Doubtless it worked better in its original form as a 22 minute short (I haven’t seen it), but the fact that this is actually ten minutes longer than it needs to be for business purposes (though an hour longer than necessary for dramatic purposes) is down to director Ramaa Mosley’s blind faith that more shots of Temple in her scanties will somehow make this film work.
Outpost 11 (101 Films, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Outpost 11 is a lighthouse movie. That is to say it’s a film about a small number of people trapped in a confined space, quietly going insane until… boom! Set in a parallel steampunk reality, it follows a trio of what look like First World War British soldiers – a drug-sniffing, masturbating corporal, a dithery private and a capable captain – doing some never-quite-specified monitoring in the Arctic while the war rages out in the wide world. It’s a world of candlestick telephones, VHS tapes, clunky 1980s headphones, sci-fi spiders, a big brass engine-room which thrums away musically. This is an ingeniously cobbled-together world, slightly redolent of charity shops and Dr Who, with the plot accent firmly on the “what the hell is going on?”. I won’t say what the hell is going on, not least because I still wasn’t sure by the end. I was sure that this is a confident film-making debut by director Anthony Woodley, who understands how to work with what he’s got, rather than against it, who knows how to conjure mood, and who has learnt the lesson that suggestion – what is that weird squeaking creature pulled out of a filter at one point? – creates better atmosphere than any SFX effect.
© Steve Morrissey 2013