Out in the UK This Week
Blue Ruin (4DVD, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Most vigilante thrillers fall into one of two camps – either the seriously pissed off professional killer who decides enough is enough (Point Blank/Kill Bill), or the utterly unlikely avenger whose anger makes him/her as good or better than any professional (Death Wish/Law Abiding Citizen). Blue Ruin comes at it from a fresh angle, introducing the killer who is utterly unsuitable for the job, is forced into a corner and has to fight his way out, doesn’t learn anything along the way, and remains a bumbling milquetoast to the end. Macon Blair plays that man, a timid creature we first meet in the bath leaning forward to turn off the tap, because he thinks he’s heard a noise outside. Instantly we’re hooked, and Blue Ruin keeps us there as its merciless fight and flight story plays out. I’m not even going to go into its plot – except to say that our man has to kill the family of the man who he put behind bars for killing his family – because atmosphere is all in this very spare, often wordless film that keeps faith with its premise almost to the very end. With the result that it’s us doing the running and the cack-handed killing, while director Jeremy Saulnier pulls one tension trick after another, lacing everything with dark, dry humour. Highly recommended.
Concussion (4DVD, cert 15, DVD)
Another novel story, this time it’s the happily married New York lesbian who gets a bump on the head and decides to become a prostitute. The bump deals with the Concussion title, I suppose, though it’s immaterial. As is the lesbianism, though there’s plenty of girl on girl action, of a fragrant sort. What does seem to be the film’s point is its treatment of a particular stratum of American society – entitled, moneyed, middle aged, terribly well toned – and really, at bottom, it’s painting a portrait of this particularly privileged, not particularly appealing group of people and how Abby (Robin Weigert), the newcomer to whoredom, interacts with the civilians she meets who are not like her – the young woman, the fat woman, the woman who’s had reconstructive surgery. If it sounds slight, in many ways it is, though it’s a punchy, well cast, well played relationship drama that fascinates right to the end.
Bad Neighbours (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Hey Zac Efron, it’s OK, we’re sorry we suggested you were gay, you can stop now with the “my cojones” films. This one stars Efron as the alpha male of a frat house which moves in next door to young marrieds Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne. Rogen and Byrne, unwilling to accept that they’re too old to party, try to curry favour with the lads by rolling them spliffs, sharing their mushrooms and generally behaving like 18-year-olds. Except that they have a baby and jobs and responsibilities and eventually the two things are going to come into conflict. Like on Day 2. There are two good jokes, the sort of dialogue (Rogen referring to Efron’s arms as “like giant veiny dicks”) that seems written to separate out a demographic, and lots of what looks like improvisational back-and-forth between Rogen and Byrne in a comedy that moves at a lick. Pity no one in it is vaguely likeable and that it’s actually intensely coy about the thing its script is so fixated on – sex. I mean who, honestly, is scandalised by the sight of dildos these days?
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (Signature, cert 15, DVD/digital)
This has had terrible reviews and I expected to hate it too, because it stars Robin Williams RIP. In fact it’s a fast, short, funny Ortonesque farce about an incredibly angry man (Williams) who is told by a doctor (Mila Kunis) that he has an inoperable brain aneurysm which will kill him within 90 minutes. The aneurysm is true, but the 90 minutes isn’t – it just came out of the doctor’s mouth because Mr Angry had pissed her off. So off he goes, attempting to square thing with his estranged family, though still not sure whether he should kill himself and at one point monologuing that his life will have lasted “1951 to 2014”. So there’s a ghoulish “life imitating art” aspect, and it’s a Williams film so there’s a gigantic mawkish undertow too. But if you put the maudlin voiceover to one side, and block out the whimsical Wisteria Avenue soundtrack, and ignore the fact that it’s entirely and phonily episodic (director Phil Alden Robinson, yes he of Field of Dreams, doing very little to the stage play it’s based on), and can ignore James Earl Jones’s egregious cameo as the thrift store guy with a stutter – no, this is not some rhetorical device, I managed to tune out all these things – there’s plenty to really enjoy. Williams is phenomenally good as a man almost full up with bile, so good in fact that you wonder if this wasn’t a hidden side of his character. Kunis is also extremely on the money as the remorse-filled doctor trying to find her patient. And round the edges we have top flight talent – Peter Dinklage as his dismissive brother and Melissa Leo as his unfaithful wife both showing why they’re always in work.
A Thousand Times Good Night (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Whereas this is the sort of film that always gets an easy ride. Because to criticise the film feels like a criticism of the person it’s about. A bleeding-heart war-zone photographer, played by Juliette Binoche, who is trying to fit the square peg of her humanitarianism into the round hole of her commitment to her family. Director Erik Poppe spends a lot of time delineating peg and hole – the hellish war zone, the rolling affluent splendour and gorgeous family back home in Ireland. He has good actors – including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the husband who is running out of empathy, Lauryn Canny as the daughter unsure whether to idolise this crusader for photojournalist truth or despise the absent parent. And he ducks about, from Afghanistan to Ireland to Kenya to Afghanistan again. But the sound you hear is of an issue-driven drama spinning the wheels. Watch it if you must for the fine acting – Binoche is never bad and Canny marks herself out as one to watch.
The Hypnotist (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)
A Nordic noir that has two headline attractions. One is the return of director Lasse Hallström to his native Sweden. The other is the arrival of Lars Kepler on screen. Kepler is the pen-name of the husband and wife writing duo of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho, who have been called “the next Stieg Larsson” so often they must be sick of it. If this film is anything to go on, we will have to carry on making do with the Larsson who died in 2004, because there’s nothing new going on here – a cop who calls in a hypnotist to try and access the unconscious mind of a witness traumatised by the murder of his family. Hallström opens up in spectacular fashion, with a multiple slaying that’s breathtaking and urgent, and ends with a fabulous scene in which a bus drives out across a frozen lake. In between… lovely shots of wintry Stockholm, scenes of the troubled cop (Tobias Zilliacus) battling his demons and his superiors, the hypnotist (Mikael Persbrandt) trying to rebuild trust with his wife (Lena Olin) after an affair with a hot doctor (Helena af Sandeberg). It’s all fine, it’s all good, it’s all very routine. As the cops say, nothing to see here.
Brick Mansions (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
This is a belated remake of the 2004 French parkour actioner District 13, which was a rentamob thriller full of brutes in black bomber jackets that sprang into life every time free-running god David Belle burst into action. This happened a lot. Belle returns here, starring alongside Paul Walker in his final film. I’m not sure if Brick Mansions was so heavily weighted in Walker’s favour originally, or whether a post-mortem edit has increased his share of the screen time. Either way there’s a distinct paucity of Belle, apart from the thrilling opening sequence when he runs, bounces, vaults and tumbles through a huge projects building in 2018 Detroit, which is pretty much a note for note copy of District 13’s opening sequence. After that it’s lots of Walker, some cynical Fast and Furious rubber-burning, very little Belle, whose dry relationship with Walker is enjoyable, if brief, as the two pair up to go into the off-limits Brick Mansions to take a nuclear weapon (or something) off RZA, the loquacious bad guy who, embarrassingly, likes to quote Bob Marley. Let me sub this down: it’s rubbish.
© Steve Morrissey 2014