Out in the UK This Week
In The House (Momentum, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
François Ozon’s thriller/farce is as clever as you’d expect from a man who gave us the relationship-in-reverse drama 5X2. Here he’s again examining the nature of storytelling with a film about a teacher who becomes infatuated with his star pupil’s stories, each of which ends with a “to be continued”. And in the continuation the story – and the teenager writing them – becomes more and more involved in the older man’s life. There’s post-structuralism in there, if you’re feeling smart. But the whole thing works just as well as a dark farce played to the hilt by a brilliant cast including Fabrice Luchini as the teacher, the sleek Ernst Umhauer as the cuckoo pupil.
GI Joe: Retaliation (Paramount, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
The first GI Joe was camp rubbish, a shitstorm of CGI, bullets and constantly climaxing Wagnerian orchestras all modelled – so the IMDB tells us but you’d never spot it yourself – on James Bond. This sequel is actually pretty good. An impressively limber actionfest that seems to have taken its cues, properly, from Mission Impossible, it claims to have Channing Tatum as its star. But he’s dead before he’s even managed to take his top off, leaving the perfectly OK Dwayne Johnson to run through the “you’ve been disavowed – let’s get payback” plot. And off it goes on its multi-stranded journey, one of the strands featuring Bruce Willis, another a bit of ninja fighting. Unlike the first film the SFX are effective, the fight sequences pack some weight and there’s also some impressive vehicular action for the petrolheads. Hats off to director Jon M Chu, who has clearly learnt about the importance of all sorts of choreography from his time on the Step Up dance sequels.
White Elephant (Axiom, cert 15, DVD)
Pablo Trapero’s update of the lip-quivering 1950s melodrama is about priests working in a Buenos Aires shantytown. It’s a meat-and-potatoes film, not a white-hot piece of genre reworking, the way Carancho was. Casting is a strong suit – Ricardo Darín and Martina Gusman, both familiar Trapero faces, being joined by Jérémie Renier, playing the young priest doubting the value of his work and wobbling like a comet in the gravitational pull of a heavenly body (that’s Martina Gusman, who genuinely tries to dial down her beauty, to little effect). You might have expected, at this point in his career, for Trapero to go for an international breakout. He hasn’t. Admirably, frustratingly, he’s gone for a film that will resonate most with homegrown audiences – the white elephant of the title is an abandoned hospital standing empty since the 1930s, a symbol of the stalled development of Argentina. Solid, worthy, well built.
Beware of Mr Baker (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Jay Bulger’s documentary takes its title from the sign at the entrance to the legendary Cream drummer’s spread in South Africa and straight away sets out its stall with a scene where the 70something Baker hits Bulger hard in the face with the stick he now uses to help him walk. It’s an assault, pure and simple, but sets the tone for what is to come, Baker lashing out irritably, mouthing off (“We were fucking good. That’s why we called ourselves Cream”), slagging off fellow musicians, being breathtakingly candid in a way that is gold dust for a documentarian. Meanwhile, Bulger assembles footage from Baker’s past, including stints with Fela Kuti and John Lydon, and interleaves the whole thing with talking heads. The drummers among them (Stuart Copeland, Lars Ulrich, Nick Mason) are voluble in their appreciation, while the non-drummers often tell stories of how Baker punched them too. Wonderful.
The ABCs of Death (Monster, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
26 films from 26 directors, some of them now fairly famous – Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens and Simon Rumley – most of them well known to horror buffs. They’re all short, obviously, wildly different (try F is for Fart by Noboru Iguchi or O Is for Orgasm by Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet for size) and there is the odd stab of excellence (I particularly liked Ben Wheatley’s one, U Is for Unearthed, about the killing of a vampire from the victim’s point of view), even if there aren’t quite enough really great ones to make this a memorable exercise.
One. Two. One (Second Run, cert PG, DVD)
Films are often said to be a “snapshot” of a certain culture at a certain time. Mania Akbari’s film about a beautiful woman disfigured by an acid attack actually looks like one. Set in present-day Iran, it is composed entirely of almost static straight-on headshots – now in the beautician’s where the attacked wife is being “repaired”, now in the psychiatrist’s, now the fortune teller’s and so on, with occasional digressions to the prison where her husband and attacker (also shot head on) is now languishing for his crime. The tug between traditional and modern is the theme, with mobile phones featuring strongly – the disruptive technology that gets round all attempts to keep in place the chaperone culture. It’s brilliantly acted, remarkable in fact, and though we’ve no clear idea of timescale, whether some things are set in the past (before the attack) or after (when this bright, outgoing woman has healed), it is the insights on Iran itself and the quiet way the film is hollering “you’re doomed, doomed” to the old culture that makes this such a strange, powerful, unusual piece of work.
© Steve Morrissey 2013