Out in the UK This Week
Joe (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
I like Nicolas Cage in bad films, so going into this one, having heard it was good, I was slightly wary. But both him and the film are excellent – he’s the anger-prone decent guy who takes a young lad (up-and-coming Tye Sheridan) under his wing after he and his dad (Gary Poulter) pitch up looking for work on Joe’s (that’s Cage) tree-poisoning detail. Yes, tree poisoning. That’s a telling touch in a film that’s an exercise in the twisted Southern genre – derelicts and whores, low-lifes and attack dogs – director David Gordon Green back, to some extent, in George Washington territory, telling a melodramatic story in the most unmelodramatic of ways and imbuing everything with a languid, smoky ambience. But, like a bad Cage film, it’s still all, to a large extent, about waiting for the big fella to blow his top.
Fading Gigolo (Curzon, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A Woody Allen homage by John Turturro. He writes, directs and stars, as a likeable sap in New York whose old bookstore-owning friend (Woody Allen in a rare “acting only” role) starts pimping him out to bored middle aged women, including Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. Turturro twin-tracks this comic tale that runs on a high-octane performance by Allen – all impish remarks and Greek chorus wisdom – with a parallel story about a rabbi’s widow (Vanessa Paradis) and the be-ringleted Jewish morality cop (Liev Schreiber) who’s got the hots for her. The two gears don’t quite mesh and what’s more neither plot feels like it’s really been properly explored by the time the film, fun enough while it’s around, comes to a slightly “was that it?” ending.
Omar (Soda, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Omar is the story of three Palestinian young men – Omar is the lover, Tarek is the fighter and Amjad is the clown – and how what should be normal lives of loving, fighting and fooling about are knocked sideways by the Jewish presence in their West Bank home. It’s a believably acted drama that doesn’t rely on the milking of political sympathies for its effect. It’s a good story, in other words, as Omar is first arrested, recruited by the Jewish Israelis, let out, re-arrested, falls in love, is deceived in love, and so on. Like A Prophet, it’s about a man being militarised, but first and foremost it’s a story about a young guy just trying to live his life. And it’s those parts of it, Omar’s love story with Nadia, sister of the “not with my sister you don’t” Tarek, that are really what make sinuously plotted, atmospherically shot drama work.
The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet (E One, cert 12, DVD/digital)
Aiming for 1960s Disney with a bit more edge, Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet finds a fitting vehicle for his chocolate-boxy visuals with a story about a cadet inventor (Kyle Catlett) in so-beautiful-it-hurts Montana who sets off on a journey to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington to pick up a prize for his perpetual motion machine. The journey – good old fashioned boxcar stuff with traditional happenstance meetings on the way – are the backbone of this pick’n’mix movie, and once TS gets to Washington we get to see the fabulous Judy Davis as the impeccably dressed, Anna Wintour-bobbed boss of the Smithsonian, ready with any number of catalogue poses from the Disney book of villainesses. Jeunet still has the bad habit of saying something in a voiceover and then showing us the same thing again visually, but his visuals are cute almost to the point of delicious parody and he is refreshingly keen on telling a story about a bright kid with a thirst for knowledge, and about the joys of the mind. Which is pretty rare.
Fruitvale Station (Spirit, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
Fruitvale Station is the stop on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in California where a young black man, Oscar Grant, was shot in the back by a policeman in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009. Writer/director Ryan Coogler’s feature debut dramatically reconstructs Grant’s last day, and casts Michael B Jordan as the young man who seems to be on the verge of manning up, jacking in the weed and realising his responsibilities to his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz, also excellent) and his broader family. It’s a rounded portrait in the sense that we see some of Grant’s foibles, but only in that sense. In all other respects Coogler’s “kind to animals, children and old ladies” picture of Grant is bordering on the ridiculously saintly. Which is a pity, because it tends to place the sceptical viewer (ie me) on the defensive for what plays out at the end, as we see Grant and friends involved in a fracas on the train, then hauled off for the ignominious and shocking finale – a moment by moment repeat of what we’ve already seen in blurry real-time smartphone imagery over the opening credits.
Jimmy’s Hall (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Well I didn’t like The Wind That Shakes the Barley – Ken Loach’s agit-prop drama about the 1920s Irish war against the British. And I didn’t much like this return to Erin, for a drama set in the aftermath of the civil war which broke out after independence. Barry Ward looks the part but lacks any charisma as Jimmy, the communist returnee from New York trying to re-open the old community hall, where the local peasantry mix poetry, song and dance with the lessons in Greek myth, drawing and boxing (noblest of the sports). This all in contradiction of the wishes of the local priest (Jim Norton, familiar as Bishop Brennan on the TV series Father Ted), representative of the “pastors and masters”. Loach and his long-time writing collaborator Paul Laverty have made a “them and us” drama in which one side are all virtue, the other all thuggery, the exception being Father Sheridan, a character of intriguing ambiguity in a film otherwise lacking any – and it isn’t just Norton’s excellent playing of him. The result is an interesting moment from history retold competently but lacking most of the tiny uncertainties of reality. A bit dull, in other words.
La Dolce Vita (Nouveaux, cert 15, Blu-ray)
Brought back from the brink of disintegration, Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece has been restored with variable success – though this is now probably as good as it’s going to get – for this blu-ray debut which runs Marcello Mastroianni’s world-weary writer-turned-journalist through the fleshpots of Rome for one week of excess at the beginning of the Swinging Sixties. It’s still a brilliant film – Fellini catches the dangerous allure of glamour, sex, late nights, the whole damn thing, so well that you’d barely guess he saw the whole caboodle as dangerous as hell. Quite a moral message from an atheist. The extras (on the UK version) include an interview with Anita Ekberg, who is a candid and throatily sexy old broad, and a series of trailers – the one for Juliet of the Spirits makes you want to rush out and track it down immediately. Let’s hope Criterion or Eureka or Nouveaux, or whoever, are on the case.
© Steve Morrissey