Out in the UK This Week
The Raid 2 (E One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
Gareth Evans’s sequel picks up exactly where the first film ended – after the relentless and entirely exciting display of pencak silat martial arts that was the alpha and omega of The Raid (aka Raid: Redemption) – as if to suggest we’re about to get more of the same. In fact we’re not. And at times over the next 150 minutes, following Iko Uwais as a cop deep undercover, Evans had me shaking my head in sorrow. Yes, there are some mighty fine displays of brilliantly choreographed fighting by Uwais. And the final 45 minutes is one long orgy of pugilistic brilliance. But the Godfather II plot? You really want to do this? Yes, Evans does, with long, meandering scenes in which the bad guy dad and his bad guy son wrangle for control of the bad guy empire. I could not care less. Let’s have more of the girl with the two hammers. Show me that bit again where a man gets a metal baseball bat in his face, his assailant lets go of the bat, and it stays fixed in his gaping maw as he topples to the ground. The film is still awesome, don’t get me wrong, but to the boosters who reckon it’s better than the first film – get a job in PR.
Calvary (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
I had also heard a lot about this film by John Michael McDonagh, about an Irish priest told in confession by a person unknown that he is going to be killed in a week’s time, and he should get used to the idea and say his farewells. Early on it’s a beautifully connected series of mini-dramas, with Gleeson’s Father James going about his parish, meeting one person after another, in scenes that crackle with life. But as it goes on Calvary starts to descend into a series of music-hall sketches, with the locals all behaving increasingly Oirishly, the comedy sitting very ill on a drama that’s very bleak indeed. And yet it works. I think it’s down to Gleeson, whose face is a blank prayer as he’s being insulted and abused in a town that would once have accorded a man of the cloth some respect. This is no kiddie-fiddling priest but a good man in a bad world. It’s not called Calvary for nothing. A poignant pleasure.
The Unknown Known (Dogwoof, cert E, DVD)
Neocon Donald Rumsfeld obviously watched Errol Morris’s The Fog of War – Morris’s great, wide-ranging interview with US former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara – and thought “I want a bit of that.” “That” being a platform to explain himself. Having been George W Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld is to many people one of the most reprehensible modern politicians, after all. Morris has given him his platform and the results are fascinating, and not at all what you expect; not what I expected anyway. For a start I had no idea Rumsfeld had been in a prominent political position since the Nixon era (“Rummy… he’s a ruthless little bastard” was Nixon’s assessment, according to the tapes). Morris uses the device of taking Rumsfeld’s snowflakes – the thousands and thousands of memos Rumsfeld would write exploring, justifying, bollocking – as prompts for his interview. And Rumsfeld is happy to talk about all of it – Vietnam; how he was next to Ford when someone tried to kill him; meeting Sadam Hussein; his rivalry with George Bush Sr; putting down Condoleezza Rice; torture in Guantanamo Bay. And he’s unapologetic – “all the easy decisions are made down below” he says when asked how he knows when he’s gone too far. Or in other words, “You try doing the job and see if you don’t get some things wrong.” It’s tempting to say that Morris doesn’t get a glove on Rumsfeld. If he does it’s a glancing blow. I came away from this with a lot more respect for this wily old fox, and a lot less respect for the White House press corps, who seem to roll over whenever a politician comes along and pulls the old “here’s me just speaking off the cuff” routine. As we see in footage of press conferences which Morris drops in at key moments, nothing Rumsfeld says is off the cuff, it just looks that way.
Under the Rainbow (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)
If the fairy tale is the most guileful of the narrative forms, and farce the most simple (or vice versa), how about trying to put them together? That seems to be the idea behind this incredibly French French film about two families who increasingly interact. On one side we have the moneyed Laura (Agathe Bonitzer), a daydreamer who believes that one day her prince will come. On the other hardscrabble grump Jean-Pierre Bacri, who has his girlfriend and her two kids camping uneasily in his house while his son Sandro, unbeknown to him, is making eyes at the lovely Laura. Enter a man called Maxime Wolf (Benjamin Biolay), who makes a move on Laura as she is walking through the woods, and a very odd twin-track Red Riding Hood story starts to play out, complete with wicked stepmothers, good fairies, woodsmen, and so on, all dressed up like modern bourgeois urbanites. Pinging between the genres like a demented pinball, this is a rather clever film that doesn’t work on an emotional level – it would be surprising if it did. But it does on an intellectual level, as the gears crunch, then crunch again and again. And the acting, as you expect with anything that has the name of Bacri (and director Agnès Jaoui) on it, that’s exquisite.
Soulmate (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
A fragile woman goes off to Wales to stay on her own in a cottage with a bit of local history. Before you can say “1970s Hammer movie” there are sounds coming from the attic, which the creepy local couple who seem too interested in her are explaining away as mice, or bats. Of course it’s a ghost. The ghost of quite a nice looking man who soon starts getting chummy. Don’t get too excited… things kind of peter out in this strange homage to British horror that only lacks a local squire to tick all the boxes. Anna Walton is rather good as the woman – a needy sexuality and emotional nakedness in her face, her awkwardnesses more down to director Axelle Carolyn’s decision to make her play to the camera, not her fellow players. But, hey, that was the Hammer way too – “The church refused him a Christian burial” and all that. Enjoy with a Party Seven and a mushroom vol au vent.
Divergent (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Let’s get this out of the way quickly. This is an entirely unremarkable Hunger Games wannabe starring Shailene Woodley as the young woman with hidden gifts in a totalitarian futureworld. Its biggest fault is that it’s not really a film at all: it’s a filmed book. In the way of all these things (Twilight included) the producers, reacting in advance to the online chaff if every bit of Veronica Roth’s original novel isn’t in there somehow, feel duty bound to cram everything in, whether it’s filmic or not. So let’s not blame director Neil Burger, whose Limitless shows he can make an effective film. Woodley was great in The Descendants but is heroically miscast here as she makes the “Katniss arc” of nice young girl to warrior queen, while Theo James plays her tough military love interest as if just off the podium at a gay disco. The heavy handed references to the Holocaust don’t add weight either, they just make everyone involved look like a bunch of cheap chisellers. But most of all, Divergent is just dull.
Muppets Most Wanted (Disney, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
And again, quickly. Henson and the Muppet empire took a wrong turn when they elevated Kermit and Miss Piggy to king and queen of the Muppets. Sure, Kermit is the MC of the show within the show that The Muppet Show started out being. And Miss Piggy believes she is the star of that show – though she was originally sold as very ripe ham and nothing more. But once the Swedish chef, and Pigs in Space, and the chickens, and Fozzy Bear, and Crazy Animal, and Waldorf and Statler and… insert your own favourite here… started being demoted to walk-ons while the plot became entirely Kermi-centric, the whole thing lost its way. So, the plot here: an evil dead ringer for Kermit plans an audacious heist using the touring Muppets show as cover, helped by his henchman Ricky Gervais (if everyone hates you, you might as well play a bad guy). Will the Muppets notice that they have the wrong Kermit in time? In the film’s favour: there are some good song-and-dance numbers, the guest-star cameos are epic (Ray Liotta, Toby Jones, Tina Fey, Jemaine Clement, Danny Trejo, Christoph Waltz, Tom Hiddleston are only the beginning of it) and Ty Burrell was amusing as a Clouseau-esque comedy cop. But the Muppets won’t get back on track until its Disney owners realise it’s an ensemble affair, they ditch the sentimentality and put the dull, braying Miss Piggy back in her box.
© Steve Morrissey 2014