Out in the UK this week
Life of Pi (Fox, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)
Reminiscent of those special-effects-driven Alexander Korda productions of the 1940s starring Sabu as an Asian boy in a world of phantasmagoria, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s “unfilmable” novel about an Indian teenager and a tiger adrift in a lifeboat is like painting on silk or black velvet – slickly beautiful though hardly profound. Mind you, when images are this lush – a phosphorescent sea full of jellyfish, a doomed hulk of a ship going under with all lights blazing, a sea as reflective as mercury, then maybe profundity can take a day off.
The Collection (Entertainment One, cert 18, DVD)
The guys who did Saw IV-VI (it must be guys, surely, though we live in a world inhabited by the Soska sisters) return, having assimilated The Human Centipede’s lessons in eeew, with an ingeniously worked through array of death in a big old house – by hound, nailgun, descending spikes, iron maiden, bomb, blade and plenty more. Plot? Character? Maybe next time.
Being Flynn (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Adapted from Nick Flynn’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, this heartfelt drama about a dad heading for Skid Row, where his son happens to work, gives us a chance to see Robert De Niro putting in a powerful performance as the delusional alcoholic dad and Paul Dano, in a less flamboyant role, as his peevish son heading vaguely the same way. Watching Being Flynn it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that it was designed with box-office hugeness in mind. The fact that Julianne Moore and Olivia Thirlby are members of the very solid cast suggests that too. That it doesn’t attain hugeness is down to the script, which never quite works out what to do with the authorial voice, so keeps it in as voiceover, along with unnecessary scenes which replicate what the narrator is telling us.
White Tiger (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
A Russian film about the Second World War, made in the epic Soviet style – lots of extras, plenty of explosions – about a tank commander who sets out on a mission to rid the Eastern Front of a German tank so agile and deadly that it has acquired mythic status. There is much to like in this film – seeing villages laid waste by tank ordnance is viscerally thrilling, plus there’s a nimble cat-and-mouse plot which really helps tug even the most combat-fatigued viewer through. But, and this is initially more of a mystifier than a bar to enjoyment, the tank plot on which the entire film turns is junked about 15 minutes from the end, and we cut to an entirely different story about the German high command signing the capitulation documents that ended the war. And then, right at the last second, we return to our tank commander who makes a little speech about the German – “He’s waiting. He’ll wait 20 years, 50, maybe a hundred but he’ll crawl out. He must be destroyed.” And we then cut to Hitler, foaming away in a schloss somewhere. Even though everyone knows Hitler was dead before the end of the war. These departures from both original plot and historical record are deliberate, and possibly say something about the Russian empire’s view of the world that’s as worth hearing as the film is worth seeing.
You Will Be My Son (Drakes Avenue, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/download)
Shot in the Dordogne, almost entirely in the golden hour, which drenches everything in the most beautiful side-lighting, this French drama is about the fractious relationship between an old vintner (a lionlike Niels Arestrup) and his milquetoast son (Lorànt Deutsch). Which only gets worse when the taller, more confident, handsome and successful son (Nicolas Bridet) of the big fella’s estate manager returns. There’s a great plot to this film, and it is peopled by actors who force an emotional investment. And any film that deals in wine and vineyards clearly has an in-built advantage. But the script is an exercise in over-obviousness and by the time of the father’s umpteenth belittling of the son, the son’s lack of balls is severely losing him sympathy. Verdict: nuanced actors hung out to dry by the script. Still, there’s always that sunshine.
Girlfriend in a Coma (Springshot, cert E, DVD)
A feature-length documentary by Bill Emmott, the dapper former editor of the Economist, who analyses the decline of Italy, a country he clearly holds dear. This is a well-researched piece, opinionated, with the right talking heads (including cultural theorist/novelist Umberto Eco, and technocrat prime minister Mario Monti), though Emmott never got the interview with Berlusconi that was promised. What gives this heartfelt 90 minutes a wider resonance is Emmott’s broader application of his conclusion – “bad government is to blame for letting bad capitalism thrive”. As in Italy, so in the rest of the world.
Black Sabbath (Arrow, cert 18, Blu-ray)
Mario Bava’s 1963 horror is where Ozzy Osbourne and his Birmingham muckers got the name for their band. It’s a portmanteau affair consisting of three separate stories – The Telephone, The Drop of Water and The Wurdalak, the latter starring Boris Karloff. All are beautifully shot, theatrically ripe affairs, heaving with blood, bosoms and menace, making Black Sabbath a must-have for Bava nuts and a good place to start if you’ve never had any contact with one of the masters of horror.
© Steve Morrissey 2013