Out This Week
Good Kill (Arrow, cert 15)
What happens when you force a Top Gun kinda guy out of his plane and into a bunker, where he is now commanded to kill people in Whereveristan remotely, using drones? Writer/director Andrew Niccol and his Gattaca star Ethan Hawke reteam to answer the question in an anti-war film running through most of the arguments made by the liberal intelligentsia (ie the intelligentsia). Hawke physically channels Tom Cruise, donning Ray Bans and copying the faux big-bollocks walk, while little touches nudge us even further towards the conclusion that drones are a bad thing – the voice coming down the line from Langley with lethal orders sounds a lot like Donald Rumsfeld’s. Middle aged man finds he can’t get hard any more – for war, anyway – subtly played, intelligently told, though there’s no such nuance in the message.
White God (Metrodome, cert 15)
Bizarro item of the week is well worth hunting down. Imagine a Lassie story with dog-fighting, animals attacking and killing humans, extreme violence, bloody mayhem, with our hero dog eventually attaining a moment of consciousness and ganging together with other street beasts to lead an attack on the good burghers of Budapest, where this film is set. This is that film. And because it sticks to the animal movie template – Black Beauty is actually what it’s closest to, with its story of a mongrel passed from human to human and having new adventures on the way – it’s hard to shake off the feeling that this is a Disney film as made by an executive who’s just done four straight days on crystal meth.
Hustlers Convention (Kaleidoscope, cert E)
The motherlode of rap, made in 1973 by Jalal Nuriddin of The Lost Poets, gets a belated appraisal. No surprise to find that the guy who made it is now knocking on a bit, but he’s in good shape, both physically (thanks to martial arts) and mentally, because, as he tells us, “I chose the message over the money.” Which is good for him, because though his album telling the story of life in the hood – gangstas and niggaz in utero – was massively influential, it never really crossed over, though a million sales on word of mouth alone is obviously impressive. “It was the human rights struggle in a nutshell,” says the eloquent and charming Nuriddin. The line-up singing his praises is impressive – KRS One, Ice-T, Chuck D, all voluble and interesting fans – but the talking heads tends to repeat each other and the film is a touch formless, though director Mike Todd does make it build, vaguely, towards a gig at London’s Jazz Cafe, which he then shows almost nothing of (a rights problem?). However, any gig that ends with its clearly enthused lead singer giving the black power salute and signing off with “power to the people” is OK by me.
Insurgent (E One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/digital)
After a quick “previously on Divergent” preamble, we’re into number two in the series, which sees Shailene Woodley advance towards the inevitable challenge to the rule of dictator Kate Winslet, in what looks very much like a re-run of the Hunger Games, because it is. Nothing wrong with that – the story of a gifted lone individual leaving home, and being forged in the wilderness while assembling a rebel gang was good enough for Bilbo Baggins and Luke Skywalker, not to mention Jesus Christ. What’s problematic here is how pedestrian the telling of the story is, the script in particular letting the side down with its resort to cliche and just dead flat writing. As if sensing this, director Robert Schwentke makes an effort with the lighting and keeps the action moving. In fact the whole film is a triumph of production design. And the acting isn’t bad either. Though Theo James as a rough tough badass leader still isn’t convincing, at least Shailene Woodley is on hand, that “not hot enough” trolling after the first film having persuaded her to tone up – shoulders are broader, waist is narrower, clothes and hair are cut just so. It isn’t a good film, but then I’m not 13 nor a girl.
Admiral: Command and Conquer (Signature, cert 15)
Sneaking out to DVD in the UK, though well worth seeking out, is this sumptuous Netherlands historical epic, the country’s second most expensive film (after Verhoeven’s Black Book). It’s a rollicking Sunday afternoon adventure about naval hero Michiel de Ruyter and how he saved his country from the English navy. It’s done on the big scale, booms and dolly shots, lots of extras, sumptuous sets and costumes. More importantly, it’s well written, moves at speed and spends time with its luffs, mizzens, braces and jibs, so that when the big sea battles do come, we have some idea of the physical abilities of the ships, how subject they are to the whim of the wind, and the extreme skill it takes to manoeuvre them. Pubby bear Frank Lammers is a coup as the brave, resourceful but modest de Ruyter, the sea captain who’d rather be at home with the wife and kids. Charles Dance turns up as the finagling crook Charles II of England, and he twirls his moustaches as if for the first time. I’d swap out the over-Hollywood soundtrack, which gets a bit by-the-yard(arm) at times, and the odd bit of CG probably needs another few thousand euro spending on it, but it’s a good film – highly informative and vastly entertaining. Ahoy!
Glassland (Kaleidoscope, cert 15)
An Irish misery memoir, with an excellent Jack Reynor, in louche Michael Fassbender territory, its saving grace as the son of alcoholic Toni Collette trying to persuade her to stay off the bottle. I would say Collette was good too, since she always is, except that her Hollywood bleached teeth do slightly let the side down. Don’t bother if you’re sick of seeing working class life as a shit-covered slide towards the grave, because that’s what we have here. Though if looked at as a strange sort of love story between a son and his mother, it does gain a few plus marks, and the dangle of a possible redemptive finish does at least give the drama some tension. Will Poulter fans should ignore his name in the credits. He’s in it for seconds, possibly just to help young director Gerard Barrett get his film financed.
Woman in Gold (EV, cert 12)
A BBC and Weinstein brothers co-production. And both are up to their usual middlebrow tricks with a dramatised version of the true story about the ageing Jewish woman (overacting Helen Mirren) who decided to fight the Austrian government and claim back what the Nazis had stolen from her family – the Woman in Gold, Gustav Klimt’s portrait of her aunt, Adèle Bloch-Bauer. Ryan Reynolds arrives early on, as the rookie lawyer she co-opts to help her, and the story is then bent very much into a chemistry-free facsimile of Philomena – prim pensioner and cocky guy double-act stuff. It’s not as good as Philomena in any way, not least because there are no real stakes here – a perfectly comfortably off woman would rather like a painting back so that justice may be seen to be done. It’s hardly life and death. Nor do we need backstory for Reynolds – his domestic setup with wifey Katie Holmes is just space-filling. And director Simon Curtis’s decision (or maybe it was the Weinsteins; they tend to interfere) to shoot the Nazi-era Vienna sequences in that flat sepia has the effect of suggesting the past isn’t as important as the present (which, most surely, flatly contradicts the film’s message). While, in the present, Curtis’s camera is ever busy, gliding about when it should be still. Strange how a story with so much potential – the Nazis, a great artist, millions of dollars, an iconic picture, a legal battle raising spectres of mass extermination and national guilt – has settled instead for the chocolate box.
© Steve Morrissey 2015