Out in the UK This Week
Shell (Verve, cert 15, Blu-ray-DVD)
This is a hell of a feature debut for director Scott Graham, whose eye for poetic desolation is the key feature of his drama about a lonely girl working at a struggling petrol station in the Scottish Highlands. Graham’s camera dotes on Chloe Pirrie, who has one of those faces that can flash from knowingly beautiful one second to fairly ordinary the next, depending on how much wattage its owner is generating. Shell is a simple, succinct drama with the tension of a thriller – is our heroine going to do something stupid with one of the rare regulars whose tanks she fills (sexual innuendo entirely deliberate)? Or is she going to do something even more stupid with the man we at first think is her husband but turns out to be her father. No more spoilers. Watch it for yourself. It’s really worth it.
Village at the End of the World (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)
A really charming documentary about a remote North Greenland village populated by 50 Inuit who are mostly related to each other. The focus is fairly majorly on Lars, a 17-year-old who would really like a girlfriend and more to do than disconsolately surf the internet. For Lars, unlike most kids, his Facebook friends really are his only friends. Lars rarely engages with the guy he thinks is his dad, who lives within a stone’s throw of him and his mother. A small town doesn’t mean everyone is in each other’s pocket. The documentary takes us through all four seasons, including the winter period when the sun does not shine at all, and the summer, when it never stops. It’s a great example of “show don’t tell” film-making, giving us an incisive view of life at the cold end of the world, how the villagers make it work and why they behave the way they do – which means seal blood in the water now and again. Perhaps “charming” isn’t the exact word.
Broken (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)
Casting Rory Kinnear as a fist-swinging toughie seems to going against type. But then so does seeing Tim Roth as a struggling lone parent. This small but well written drama takes the Shameless route – of an awful family (headed by Kinnear) in a stretch of North London whose neighbours have their own ugly secrets to hide. It’s in the miserabilist kitchen sink style and is mostly concerned with parenting – the duties of adults to children, whether they’re struggling with their own inadequacies (Kinnear), those that come from being over-stretched (Tim Roth) or, again, those that come from the inadequacies of the kids themselves (Denis Lawson drawing the short straw as a paterfamilias whose son is not the full shilling). But it’s also of the duties of men with a capital M – enter Cillian Murphy as a young lothario getting mixed up in the various family stews and coming to the fork in the road where maturity beckons. It is all a bit earnest, yes, but the ear for dialogue gives it a spark, and the entirely genre “ohmigod” finish delivers some excitement, even though it doesn’t really fit the film.
Student Services (Axiom, cert 18, DVD)
There’s a matter-of-fact quality to this dramatisation of the tell-all book by a French student who sorted out her hunger-faints, and paid her way through Uni, by selling her snatch. Laura (Déborah François) is so nervous the first time, so pseudo sure of herself the second – until she’s treated to a rather shabby bunk-up in someone’s car, including some unexpected anal followed by an ejaculatory finishing flourish into her hair. Yup, matter of fact. It is those slightly gruesome details that save this film from descending into exploitation territory – we’re not being titillated. It even manages, at some abstract level, an examination of the mindset of Generation Y, how far they’re prepared to go for material stuff – further than Generation X for sure, this film suggests, and much further than boomers, though the Millennials are still aware of the meaning of the phrase “selling out”. Ignore the ending – when we are suddenly asked to get on our moral high horses – and Student Services is a sleazy, uneasy though worthwhile ride, if that’s the right word.
Death Game (MVM, cert 15, DVD)
Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians is the source (quite explicitly) for this Japanese “who dies next” horror set in a Big Brother-style house of constant surveillance, strict rules and high-tech gadgetry, and populated with the by now obligatory mixed bag of miscreants, egotists and dimbos. It’s a funny odd film, poorly written and badly acted but Hideo Nakata is in the directorial chair – he directed the classic Ring (the original, not the remake) – and he delivers enough creepy atmosphere to keep eyes on the screen. And with ten (more or less) people dying before the end credits roll after around 100 minutes, that means another death (by crossbow, knife, gun, spike or whatever) will be along before you take the chance to wander back to whatever’s on your iPad.
Safe Haven (Entertainment One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
The Nicholas Sparks production line is now in full flow, Sparks being the producer of this adaptation of his novel which takes the formula of his biggest hit to date, The Notebook, strips it of most of its interesting aspects, to leave something very familiar to readers of Mills & Boon or Harlequin romances. Lasse Hallström, the director who made abortion look nice in The Cider House Rules, soaks everything in filtration so warm that it’s possible to believe that Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, our plucky leads, are Hispanic. She’s the sweet girl on the run from her violent husband; he’s the lonely widower (great dad, decent guy, lovely kids), and from the moment she turns up in his “just folks” North Carolina town, the outcome is a given. The leads are lovely, it’s all very tasteful, there’s absolutely nothing to frighten the animals (even the sex scene is done with extreme refinement) – turn on, tune in, zone out.
Parker (Entertainment One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Who doesn’t love a decent Jason Statham film? This one has all the hallmarks of a cracker – the novel it’s based on is by Donald Westlake, whose The Hunter formed the basis for Point Blank, the John Boorman/Lee Marvin movie that’s the reference point for this sort of thing. This sort of thing being the revenge payback “where’s my fucking money” thriller in which tough guys are reduced to sobbing hulks by someone even tougher. And Taylor Hackford is directing. He’s a man who knows how to keep things moving, as he did in films from An Officer and a Gentleman to Ray. Hallmarks can be misleading, however, and they definitely are in this case. Because this is only a Jason Statham film for the first third or so – the good bit. Then Jennifer Lopez turns up, playing a struggling realtor who becomes involved in Statham’s plans to winkle a bad guy out of a new investment in Florida. And the whole film takes a left turn to build up this minor role for the newly delivered star – backstory for her, subplots for her, sideplots for her, hair and make-up, outfits. And what started out as a good Statham film mutates right in front of our eyes into a poor J-Lo film. Next time, how about a Thunderbirds spin-off, with Statham as Parker, the cockney driver, and J-Lo as Lady Penelope? Just a thought.
© Steve Morrissey 2013