Out This Week
Deadpool (Fox, cert 15)
From the guys who wrote Zombieland, a similarly knowing and smart play in the genre pool, though this time it’s superheroes rather than the undead who get a prolonged playful kicking. The style is Honest Trailers – YouTube fanboys with brains ((“Trailers that tell you the TRUTH about your favorite movies and TV shows”) – and follows Ryan Reynolds as the eponymous hero as he searches … actually, there is no need to recount the plot at all, since that’s why you watch the film, though I should say that it is more than just a mere peg for jokes. And they come in all shapes and sizes – from playing with the story’s chronology, to aural gags (Deadpool having his face pounded into a radio, which changes station with each pound), to gags which break the fourth wall and then break it again (“Fourth-wall-break inside a fourth-wall break,” says Deadpool at one point. “That’s, like, 16 walls.”), to self-referential gags about Reynolds’s abilities as an actor, to Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo, and this time it’s a good one, as a compere in a pole-dancing club. But, one step back from all this messing about – imagine Spider-Man at his quippiest multiplied by Kick-Ass – there’s a well crafted, well plotted and brilliantly cast superhero movie going on. Ed Skrein is a great hulking British villain, Morena Baccarin is a fast-mouthed love interest who also happens to look good in stockings and suspenders, while Michael Benyaer and Brianna Hildebrand make a great mismatched superhero double act as lunkish Warlord and attitudinal Negasonic Teenage Warhead. It is also brilliantly directed as a piece of superhero choreography – the big fight finale thrillingly mixes CG and live action together and isn’t too bothered if you can see the joins, because it’s the drama that counts. The old saw has it that when genres turn comedic, it’s the sign they’re exhausted. In which case the superhero movie is dead. Deadpool is a great way to go.
Oddball & the Penguins (Icon, cert U)
An Australian film about a big friendly sheepdog saving a sanctuary for fairy (or little) penguins. It’s a true story and Wikipedia tells us exactly what the film does – that at one point the breeding population of little penguins on Middle Island, off the coast of Warnambool, Victoria, had shrunk to ten breeding pairs (I think the film makes this ten actual animals), placing the future of the colony under threat. And that depredation of the penguins was halted by the introduction of a Maremma sheepdog to keep foxes away. Oddball & the Penguins tells the story of that introduction. It’s a heartwarming and a genuinely delightful film working wholesale from Disney’s 1960s animal movie playbook – there’s Alan Tudyk as a bit of a villain, Sarah Snook as his too-virtuous girlfriend and the colony’s passionate protector, Shane Jacobson as her dad and owner of sheepdog Oddball, an animal useless about the farm but something of a natural with the penguins. Though Tudyk and Snook are bigger names, Jacobson is the star and beating heart of this film, playing a gruff Ocker farmer who will brook no nonsense from humans but has all the time in the world for animals. The whole thing is shot in the sunniest, wholesomest Australian way by DP Damian Wyvill and it’s aimed squarely at children, though I lapped it up wholesale and would happily sit through it again. A refreshing and entirely uncynical goodtime story.
Concussion (Sony, cert 12)
Concussion is based on a GQ article, Game Brain, which told the story of how a pathologist realised that the relentless head trauma that American footballers received during their careers was having a devastating effect, causing symptoms which were being confused with early onset Alzheimer’s. Appalled, Omalu set out on a one-man-against-the-system quest to get the authorities to do something about it. It becomes a sober, thoughtful film in the hands of director Peter Landesman, with Will Smith as the Nigerian immigrant pathologist Dr Omalu, a principled, educated, intelligent, compassionate, unorthodox, good-natured (ie the usual virtuous Will Smith character) doctor driven to find out what is giving youngish retired footballers dementia. Landesman directed Parkland, the film about the death of JFK and then Lee Harvey Oswald, a drama that flirted with losing its audience. And the same thing is happening with Concussion, an interesting film about a fine bit of sleuthing, slightly diminished by its insistence on American football being some metaphor for America itself – the rugged individual versus the corporate interest. James Newton Howard’s keening, mawkish score – someday his presidential funeral will come – really doesn’t help here either. These shivering cavils to one side, this is a fine, well made film with an unshowy performance by Smith, who seems now to have set out on a bid for Oscar glory – Best Variable Nigerian accent, maybe? Salvatore Totino’s cinematography, meanwhile, is particularly well suited to the intimate and the beautiful. Talking of which, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dr Omalu’s love interest. Albert Brooks, David Morse and Eddie Marsan, though under-used, are all also welcome presences.
Intruders (StudioCanal, cert 15)
A home-invasion movie that effects a sleight-of-hand genre shuffle early on, as the tables are turned on the three guys who have broken into the house of grieving young Anna (Beth Riesgraf), a woman so agoraphobic she can’t bring herself to attend her brother’s funeral. And since she has now seen the burglars – who thought Anna would be at the cemetery – she’s now going to have to die. Except she isn’t, because Anna is a much gnarlier creature than the intruders had reckoned on, and her house is fitted out with all sorts of sliding doors, secret passages and two-way mirrors. Anna is a wacko, clearly, and soon the guys are being subjected to Saw-style violence that’s occasionally uncomfortable to watch. For those who are fist-pumping the fact that we’ve moved away from the cliché of the single female under threat, don’t get too excited, the mad witch bitch cliché is soon being tried on for size by Riesgraf, who gives it her all, and then a bit more. Perhaps a bit too much more. I didn’t tell you that Rory Culkin is in it, and the fact that he’s dressed up like a schoolkid when he’s actually mid/late 20s is clearly some sort of callback to brother Macaulay’s Home Alone, another home invasion drama, or else it’s just a weird wardrobe decision. It’s in the physicals – the house and the set design – that this film is actually at its best, so Culkin’s dress is probably not a mistake, and the entire cosy-gone-mad vibe rather than the wobbly acting make Intruders (aka Shut In) worth a look.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Axiom, cert 18)
For all its cinematic megaphoning, Peter Greenaway’s latest film is more of a theatre piece in the tableau vivant style, about the “ten days that shook Eisenstein”, the gay Russian film-maker, here met doing the groundwork for a new film in Mexico en route from Hollywood back, reluctantly, to the USSR where Uncle Joe Stalin is getting the anvil out. Elmer Bäck plays Sergei Eisenstein as a puckish spirit, a voluble live wire immediately suspected by the authorities of being a bad influence, perhaps because of the pornography they have found in his luggage. “It’s pictures of paintings,” Eisenstein protests to anyone who will listen, but mostly to the suave fixer Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti) who, when not giving Eisenstein a wall to bounce his mile-a-minute ideas off, is seducing the man and taking the film-maker’s anal virginity with his large penis. Ah, big cocks and Greenaway, is a PhD being written somewhere? Greenaway’s fantastic eye for an image – shots of Mexican cityscapes, mummified corpses in underground mausoleums, his familiar symmetrical compositions when the two men are à deux – is augmented by his DP Reinier van Brummelen, who lays on the split- and multi-screens in some homage to Eisenstein’s montage style. Greenaway’s script, meanwhile, when not discoursing on Marx and Freud, drops names such as Chaplin and Pickford, Einstein and George Bernard Shaw, pausing only to take his usual shots at the bourgeoisie. If pushed, I’d describe this as a terribly pointless period drama with pretensions not to be a period drama at all – I’m sure Greenaway believes he is bringing the past vividly to life and all that. Hence the cocks. Except that there’s no way in hell that Greenaway’s target educated liberal audience are going to find a few male members invigorating or shocking, or the persistent sex talk. A film about ideas that has nothing to say, except about its maker.
Go with Me (Metrodome, cert 15)
Everyone wants a piece of Scandinavian noir action, it seems. Even Anthony Hopkins, who is one of the producers of this dark and meandering, tamped-down thriller set in Canadian logging country. He’s also one of the film’s stars, playing a forklift driver at the local sawmill who volunteers to help a local waitress (Julia Stiles) who is being menaced by a local nutjob (an underused Ray Liotta). That’s the film… Stiles and Hopkins in a pickup truck trying to find Liotta and put a stop to his terrorising. Along for the ride is Alexander Ludwig, playing a local halfwit who is going, improbably, to provide some romantic lightening of the mood. Hal Holbrook plays the sawmill owner, and was 90 years old when the film was shot. He’s clearly there to make Hopkins (78) seem more lively. Though even Liotta (61) is a bit long in the tooth for this sort of scary-dude work. Stiles at 34 and Ludwig at 23 are in the right zone, at least. Go with Me was originally titled Blackway (the name of Liotta’s character) and is directed by Daniel Alfredson, the competent if workaday hand behind the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Alfredson handles the stops along the way well, offering visions of a depraved backwoods life, where drugs, commercial sex and poverty have combined to produce a hellish hopelessness. What’s less well handled is the presence of Hopkins. In many scenes set inside his pickup, it feels as if his character has been forcibly worked into a screenplay in which it originally did not figure, by the simple process of borrowing a line or two from Stiles’s dialogue and many more from Ludwig’s, the offcuts somehow being expected to add up convincingly. But nothing in this film is really plausible, apart from the sylvan British Columbia setting and the acting – you don’t hire Stiles, Hopkins and Liotta for nothing.
Overlord (Sony, cert 15)
Produced by Britain’s Imperial War Museum, Stuart Cooper’s 1975 film about the D-Day landings is a one-off bearing many of the signs of a maverick mind, plus some of the telltales of a state institution. It follows young recruit Thomas Beddows (Brian Stirner) into war, from the family hearth to the beaches of Normandy, pausing on the way to get regulation doses of the tough training, laddish camaraderie and existential soul-searching that war films demand. What makes it an interesting and unique film is Cooper’s inclusion of lots of actual footage shot by the armed forces’ propagandists, to which the director apparently had free access. He’s livened up some of this archive up by dubbing over sound that originally wasn’t there – as a train full of soldiers pulls out of a station we hear one waggish squaddie shouting to a girl on the platform, “C’mon sweetheart, show us your tits”. It’s common practice now but this must have been an early example. More fascinating for the war bore and gadget junkie is some of the contraptions made to facilitate a beach landing, such as the gigantic rolling wheel powered by catherine-wheeling firecrackers. And footage of covered trains, fields full of armoured vehicles, a warehouse full of bombs bring home the scale of the operation. The dialogue creaks a touch – “You got a sweetheart waiting for you?” being an attempt to loosen things up a bit as Thomas chats to a fellow soldier and shares a cigarette. Perhaps it’s the tone that makes it unique, with the attitude of “let’s get the blinking job done and go home,” as Thomas puts it. Not for nothing is he called Thomas – this is the point of view of age-old good-old Tommy Atkins. And, blow me, isn’t our hero well spoken, enunciating in fine Celia Johnson style while his comrades all oik it up. William Walton and Vaughan Williams, meanwhile, are evoked on a soundtrack. The country they’re saving is England, not Britain, and in particular the South of cream teas and leafy lanes, not the North and its factories. It’s a mile away from other war films of the era, and there’s no Spike Milligan fatuousness, no Francis Ford Coppola bombast. Nor has any other film-maker quite caught wistfulness so well, of proud, simple men who, at bottom, just really want to return to safety and their loved ones. This high-definition Criterion restoration does Stuart Cooper’s unique film proud.
© Steve Morrissey 2015