Out in the UK This Week
Before Midnight (Sony, cert 15, DVD)
After Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), this is round three for cinema’s most romantic couple, as played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They’re now married with two kids and living in France, but we catch up with them holidaying in Greece where they have the time and space to do what they do best – talk – while we get to watch and wonder. In round one he met her on a train journey through Europe and they fell for each other. The film’s USP was the way Delpy and Hawke’s characters interacted – they talked the way intelligent, educated people do, using cultural collateral as part of the armoury of love. In round two they met again, by accident, ten years later and, in spite of themselves (both were now committed to others) fell for each other again, again to the sound of ideas being traded, art being discussed, intellectual foreplay a-gogo. So what is director/co-writer Richard Linklater going to do with them this time? The deed is done, the auction over, there is no romantic journey left for them. So instead Hawke and Delpy act out the dance of the bickering couple, still hot for each other in some ways but no longer convinced the other is the best they could have managed, maybe. This is an entirely different proposition, because for all the chat about art and poetry and death and love, the first two films were in essence prolonged teases. That tactic won’t work this time. But, knowing that a couple in freefall is about as much fun as that Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn film The Break-Up, Linklater throws in an awful lot of window-dressing – lovely Greece, some fascinating supporting characters, a mix of young and old, all of which comes together over an elegant lunch in a breeze-kissed arbour where table talk flashes with rapier wit. It is stab-yourself-in-the-face awful. But then, having done his best to deliver some feelgood, Linklater lets Hawke and Delpy off the leash to talk and walk, fight and make up. And here, once again, the magic takes hold.
Twixt (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Francis Ford Coppola rejuvenated by technology shock. Twixt is a weird, not always successful but fabulously entertaining experiment in lo-fi film-making starring a fat, pony tailed Val Kilmer as a shitty writer of second-rate witch books who finds himself in the sort of gothic American backwoods where Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe might be neighbours. Teaming up with local sheriff Bruce Dern he sets out to solve a mystery about missing girls and ghostly apparitions – here’s Elle Fanning in whiteface with big bloody red eye makeup. Alternating between this world of broken dreams, a marriage falling apart (Joanne Whalley, Kilmer’s ex wife, plays the bitch current wife trying to squeeze more cash out of him in shrill Skype conversations), and the nighttime gothic of Kilmer’s drunken nightmares, we’re in what looks like a cross between Coppola’s Dracula film and his Rumble Fish – black and white, camp horror, all very stylised. Dern is great, Kilmer is better than he’s been for decades and the film seems to understand something that lots of bigger budget efforts don’t – something like this is meant to be fun.
Call Girl (Artificial Eye, cert 18, DVD)
If you’re with me on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and thought the best thing about it was its brilliant evocation of the 1970s, then you might enjoy Call Girl, also made by a Swedish director (Mikael Marcimain) and set in 1970s Sweden, where a girl neglected by her mother is slowly inveigled into the world of prostitution by the other, older girls at the children’s home she has been sent to. As I say, the evocation of 1970s mood is brilliant, the look is perfect, the soundtrack also evokes that odd grimy glamour of the decade of clunky platform shoes and feather-cut hair. Technically, everything in this film is perfect, Marcimain’s direction is sensitive and sensible, the acting is entirely brilliant with Pernilla August as the blowsy madam at the very top of a long list of great performances. Sound design. Cinematography. It’s all great. However, the story itself, the children’s home, how it intersects with the world of prostitution, how that intersects with the world of politics, how that intersects with the world of national security, and how that eventually involves the police, bringing us all the way back to the children’s home – and what all of these have to do with the ultra-liberal sexual climate of the time – is either just too complicated a rigmarole to effectively get onto the screen, or the screenplay just hasn’t worked out a way to manage it.
Stand Up Guys (EV, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Now entering their anecdotage, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken have a certain amount of amusement with their legacy in this loveable, useless, ragged, funny, rubbish, glorious sort-of comedy that also drags in Alan Arkin, only to kill him off just as we’re warming to his performance (this seems to be a regular fate for Arkin, ever since Little Miss Sunshine). The joke is the 1970s – the cars, the attitudes, the drugs, the clothes – with a never underacting Pacino playing an old crook getting out of jail and being met by his old retired friend Walken who, unbeknown to Pacino, has been sent to kill him by the Mr Big Pacino got on the wrong side of decades before. If this sounds like the précis for a great thriller, it is, but it’s played for yuks of a Smokey and the Bandit sort – Viagra features prominently (Pacino at one point is in the hospital with the sort of comedy erection straight out of Harold & Kumar). Played straight it would be great; played entirely for laughs it would be great too. Instead it keeps switching gear. Are we meant to care that Walken is meant to be killing an old friend? Or is it all just a big laugh? If you can get over that hump in the road, there are lots of great moments (Arkin, Lucy Punch as a grinning whorehouse madam, Vanessa Ferliton as a girl the guys find naked in the trunk of a car). Pick through this one – there are tasty bits.
The Bling Ring (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Based on the true story of a gang of LA teenagers who robbed the houses of the rich and celebrated – Lohan, Hilton, Patridge, Bloom – Sofia Coppola’s latest look behind the curtain at imaginatively challenged, intellectually inert rich people stars an entirely believable Katie Chang and Israel Broussard as the kids doing the nocturnal burglary, while the likes of Emma Watson (wobbly), Taissa Farmiga (better) and Claire Julien (quietly excellent) form their dumb, privileged skank gang. Coppola gets a lot of things right – the way the girls walk the runway walk the entire time, the fact that partying, dancing, drinking and getting high is actually a helluva lot of fun. The film has been accused of being as lite as the people it portrays, but maybe what the people want who offer that sort of criticism is some more overt condemnation of the bovine culture of the “bite me” “OMG” world of bitchery and fawning that is celebworld and its even more ridiculous fanbase. But it’s all there, it really is. A more valid criticism is that films about airheaded valley girls have been done before, and Coppola isn’t saying much that hasn’t already been said. Though that Emma Watson does look like she really knows how to party.
Our Children (Peccadillo, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
I’d watch almost anything with Niels Arestrup in, and he’s again excellent in this French drama about a lovely young couple (Tahar Rahim, Emilie Dequenne) who fall in love, get married and have children, all the while living under the roof of the guy’s adoptive father (Arestrup), a doctor who might not be as benign as he seems. As the years progress, Murielle (Dequenne) changes from a bright, fun, modern woman to a neurotic maddened shrew thanks to the combined efforts of four children, and a tacit unholy alliance between husband and his adoptive dad. Until, snap, something bad happens. What’s unsettling about Our Children is not how it depicts the chokehold being applied – that is all too clear and a fearful watch – it’s the way it seems to by degrees suggest that Islam is to blame (her husband is a Muslim). And yet, in terms of the evidence of the film in front of us, it isn’t. I’m all for a discussion of Islam’s complicated relationship with women, but this is clearly a film telling a story of patriarchy, which stops now and again to brandish a veil, or some other signifier of Islam, hoping for a reaction. This is not a bad film, in fact it’s an interesting one, with great performances (Arestrup as ever). But even after an ending that was shocking and yet appropriate it left a funny taste.
Now You See Me (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
As part of their Las Vegas stage show four supercool magicians, led by a David Blaine-ish Jesse Eisenberg, rob a French bank and distribute the millions of euros of loot to an ecstatic audience. The money really has gone from the bank; this is the real deal. How did they do it? What will they do next? Are they the modern-day Robin Hoods they appear? And other entirely appropriate questions. Woody Harrleson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco make up the rest of the foursome; Mark Ruffalo is the cop on their case, Mélanie Laurent is the Interpol cop sent to help/hinder him; Michael Caine is the eminence grise backing them; Morgan Freeman is the media-hungry nemesis determined to bring them down. Yes, that’s a lot of names, and in this film they all get their own bit of plot. And once director Louis Leterrier has got the opening half hour of lean-forward “what the hell” audacity out of their way – breathtaking stuff, genuinely – all those actors, all that plot turn what was initially a lean, slick piece of showbiz sleight-of-hand into a rabbit too fat to be pulled out of the hat.
© Steve Morrissey 2013