Out in the UK This Week
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Marc Webb’s reboot of Spider-Man in 2012 was artistically unnecessary but Webb did at least inject a welcome note of young love into it – he directed indie weepie 500 Days of Summer, let’s not forget. This even more unnecessary sequel sees Andrew Garfield’s Catcher in the Rye webslinger taking on an unnecessary plurality of villains – Electro and Green Goblin. Electro is a nice bit of racist stereotyping for Jamie Foxx, who starts off as a mild mannered janitor and winds up as “angry nigger” Electro, all exaggerated features and steroidal rage, capable of bringing a city to its knees by rampaging through downtown (the big showdown in Times Square is the film’s highlight). Dane DeHaan is the preppy rich kid who becomes Green Goblin. And though DeHaan was good as the snot, I can’t remember what Green Goblin did apart from skim about on a shield for a while and cackle. This is not DeHaan’s fault. He’s probably the best thing in it. I can’t remember because ultimately the whole film is totally forgettable. We have literally seen all of this stuff before, though someone’s decision to go for comic-book looks in the action sequences, that’s something we haven’t seen before, or at least we haven’t since the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man – those really crappy SFX. As for the decision to pre-load TAS-M3 into the back end of this one, with the arrival of Paul Giamatti’s villain Rhino… is Marvel trying to piss us off?
Next Goal Wins (Icon, cert 15, DVD/digital)
This is a fantastically simple and simply fantastic documentary about the world’s worst football team, American Samoa – who we see being beaten 31-0 over the opening credits – and the Netherlands coach who arrives to kick some fight into them. On the one side we have the guys – smiling, part-timers, religious, strikingly handsome men from a tiny island, population: 65,000. On the other we have mid-50s, wiry, gruff Thomas Rongen, a guy who’s played with George Best and Johann Cruyff. His mission is to take the team ranked last in FIFA’s tables and see if he can improve them to the point where they win at least one game. Though, to be honest, everyone would be ecstatic if American Samoa could score even a goal. So we’ve got a classic underdog story with mismatched buddies for protagonists, with some shading around the edges – the light of Jaiyeh Saelua, the team’s “fa’afafine (Samoa’s “third gender”) player, the dark of the story of Rongen’s daughter, whose recent accidental death has clearly made him open to life-re-assessment. And off we go with them, into the World Cup qualifiers, a little bit of one rubbing off on the other, and vice-versa. Air-punching, Mexican-waving stuff.
Painless (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
This Spanish film opens strikingly – with a child who can feel no pain encouraging her sister to set fire to herself. The sister dies horribly and the insensible one (Insensibles is the original title, its translation into English missing its target by a whisker) is locked away for the rest of her life with the other local kids who are similarly cursed. This all in extended flashback, while a doctor in the here and now tries to find out the missing details about his parentage – Who Do You Think You Are style. And as the film tracks forward from the 1930s, through the Second World War and into the 1960s, the children growing up and being subjected to one indignity after another, our doctor is digging backwards, until the two strands inevitably meet in a fabulously operatic finale. I wouldn’t recommend the story, which is a bit of a plodder, and the back and forth of it doesn’t help matters much either. But I do recommend this visually arresting film, which has dark looks of Pan’s Labyrinth and all the appurtenances of the gothic drama – sickness, torture, incarceration, madness, deformity, freaks, Nazis, mutilation, weird children and more. All a handy smokescreen for its real intent, which is to tackle the subject of Franco, and his aftermath. Very nicely done.
Killers (Lionsgate, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
There’s a lot of brutality in this film, thrillseekers. It kicks off with a woman being hammered to death and stays pretty gnarly right to the end. It’s an Indonesian/Japanese co-production (The Raid’s Gareth Evans is an exec producer) and plays out as a story set in the two countries – in Japan as a proper serial killer (Kazuki Kitamura) lures girls back to his place, where he sets about them with hand tools before dismembering them and turning them to organic goo in an acid bath. In Indonesia a righteous journalist (Oka Antara) starts out as one of the good guys but becomes increasingly drawn to the dark side after he takes revenge on the local Mr Big who has ruined his career. Directing duo the Mo Brothers (of Macabre fame) bring the two stories together in the end and I suppose they are prompting us to ask the question “who is the bad guy” – the one who does it for fun (but who can’t help himself), or the one who does it because he’s morally weak. That’s a crass question, but while we’re pondering it, if we are, we’re treated to a beautifully shot film whose cool, leisurely pace is interrupted by repeated stabs of brilliantly choreographed frenzied violence, often to a stately bit of classical music (Haydn?) on the soundtrack. Did someone say John Woo?
A Perfect Plan (Icon, cert 15, DVD)
A French rom-com with an “only in a rom-com” set-up – a woman needs to marry a man, then divorce him pronto, because in her family it’s always the second marriage that turns out to be the happy one. Enter Diane Kruger as the woman, Dany Boon as prospective husband number one – a loudmouth with poor prospects who she meets on a plane. Apart from the endless fascination of Kruger herself – perfect features and yet somehow not beautiful – there’s the added academic interest of watching the film trying to keep us onside with this woman who is deliberately duping an innocent and rather nice guy. Hence the frantic scene changing – France to Copenhagen to Kenya to Russia back to France (I lost track around here). Taking it as read that a good looking woman has her entitlements, it’s an ugly film trying to act cute. Though I enjoyed Boon’s performance, a pantomime Geoffrey Rush, and the impeccable acting round the edges, this is actually one for the shitbags.
When I Saw You (New Wave, cert 15, DVD)
A big festival favourite about life for a sparky Palestinian kid in 1967, and how he progresses from life in a refugee camp to becoming one of the “Fedayeen” fighting to free Palestine of the Israeli yoke. Mamoud Asfa plays the illiterate kid with a gift for mathematics (a trait the film picks up and puts down when it fancies) and is a fabulous young actor who can express naughtiness and wide-eyed wonder extremely well. And I loved Ruba Blal as his earthy, common-sense, loving mother. Director Annemarie Jacir has a good eye for a nuanced visual, and the cinematography is sharp and clear and beautiful, though the same can’t be said of the picture painted of the Fedayeen, who are so one-dimensionally upright – surely fellowship and good cheer hasn’t been this unalloyed since Errol Flynn’s Merry Men disbanded – that it just drains the life out of the entire enterprise. The film isn’t without incident – we’re watching a bright kid inculcated into something potentially dangerous (though you have to pinch yourself to remember that) and the camp that boy and mother originally lived in is bombed – but thanks to When I Saw You’s propagandistic MO it manages to be almost entirely without drama.
The Longest Week (Signature, cert 15, DVD/digital)
Tony Roberts used to turn up in a lot of Woody Allen films, back in the 1970 and 80s (Annie Hall, for one), and he plays a shrink and provides voiceover in this film about the relationship of a babbly Manhattanite (Jason Bateman) with a kooky female (Olivia Wilde). Something to do with Bateman being locked out of his trust fund, and not being able to tell her he’s broke, because then she’ll leave him, or something. The sort of problem we all have. It starts with a scene on the shrink’s couch, which ends with the supposedly killer line “but I’m a Jungian”. Later, when Bateman quizzes Wilde as to why, as a vegetarian, she doesn’t eat fish (!), she replies, “I’m a Pisces… I don’t eat my own kind”. And continues in this vein right to the end, with its non-joke jokes, its conversations in front of paintings, its hypochondria, its references to French cinema and postmodernism – the full shtick of a lobotomised Woody Allen. Billy Crudup turns up, as Bateman’s louche, gallery-owning (natch) old buddy and love rival, and he’s really rather good. In fact they’re all rather good, though I felt sorry for Roberts having to provide that knowing voiceover the entire way through, which was like trying to help a man who’s having a heart attack by running up and puncturing his lung.
© Steve Morrissey 2014