Out in the UK this week
Klown (Arrow, cert 18, DVD)
Spun off from a taboo-baiting Danish TV series of the same name, this comedy sends a couple of mismatched buddies on a road trip, bromance style, with a 12 year old boy in tow. What this dim bulb and his raging egomaniac friend get up to can best be described as shenanigans, with the jokes usually having a sexual focus – I think this has the most audacious and literal sight gag I’ve ever seen. Klown is full of the sort of stuff that you can imagine the writers room on a Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller movie coming up with and then deciding it wouldn’t be wise to use. Would that be the ass-fingering, the buttfucking or the jokes at the expense of the size of the 12-year-old’s penis? All of the above. The film does betray its TV sketch origins, but it is redeemed by the fact that its stars, Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, are as fearless as they are funny. And they are very funny.
Wake in Fright (Eureka, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
I’d heard good things about Wake in Fright before I watched it, and was intrigued about a film I’d never heard of, from the birth of the Australian new wave. And because it featured Donald Pleasence, whose stary shtick wasn’t yet worn out in 1970. It was even better than I’d anticipated, this gritty Ocker classic with drop dead cinematography follows a prissy teacher who is probably expecting a bit of genteel R&R in the Christmas break. Instead he finds himself in a place called Bundanyabba – “the Yabba”, as a taxi driver calls it, “best place in Australia” – where he is subjected to “aggressive hospitality” at the hands of the locals, who drag him from one testosterone soaked haunt to the next. The Wicker Man with sunshine is the chaotic idea, with director Ted Kotcheff and cinematographer Brian West supplying wonky but beautifully composed visuals that completely add to the mood of disorientation. Pleasence is surprisingly unhammy (which you can’t unfortunately say of star Gary Bond), as “doctor of medicine, tramp by temperament… and alcoholic” (cue big wide-eyed smile) and helps the film towards its gruesome, bloody and brilliant conclusion.
Powder Room (Universal, cert 15, DVD)
A simple but pungent British farce set in the ladies toilets at a nightclub one hectic night of sex, confession and tears. Powder Room started life as a stage play, When Women Wee, and it’s actually at its best when it’s left alone to carry on being just that – director MJ Delaney’s occasionally Guy Ritchie-stylistics don’t help it much. But they can for the most part be ignored, leaving star Sheridan Smith to ping about between old friends, an ex-boyfriend, various underage acquaintances, and the trophy friends she is hoping to impress with her entirely made up fabulous new life (no prizes for guessing how that all works out). Smith looks a tiny bit older than the friends she’s meant to be contemporaries of, but she gets away with it by sheer force of commitment. She’s abetted by dialogue that aims to tell it how it is, sister, the references to “hot sausage”, descriptions of anal sex from the female end, a less than glamorous view of love (“Some guy we went to school with wanked on your leg – that is not love”) being spat out by a cast (Jaime Winstone, Kate Nash, Oona Chaplin among them) who look like they’re having a good time.
Carrie (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
The remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic is apparently closer in spirit to Stephen King’s original book (which I haven’t read). But I’m still not convinced it needed remaking at all. Chief problem is Chloe Grace Moretz as a shrinking violet being picked on by all and sundry at school. Meanwhile at home she’s being tormented by her mad religious mother (Julianne Moore). I just don’t buy Hitgirl – catchline “OK you cunts, let’s see what you can do – being such a wimp. And nor, judging by Moretz’s occasional lapses, does the actress herself. As for the plot, it remains familiar – Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers of a fearsome sort (much more fearsome than in De Palma’s day of costly FX) and unleashes them after being hideously humiliated at the prom. I won’t say how, though I’m sure everyone reading this knows. Kimberly Peirce is in charge of direction and turns in a moody, well paced product that doesn’t snag as it goes. Even so, the way she echoes so often both the production design and camera angles of De Palma’s original suggests this is gun-for-hire work, the studio presumably having recruited her because of her girl-under-threat breakthrough Boys Don’t Cry, only to deny her the chance to really flex her muscles.
How to Survive a Plague (Network, cert E, DVD)
A documentary about Aids in the 1980s doesn’t exactly cause a mad dash towards the bluray player – it’s a familiar story without a happy ending. But this one is kind of different. It tells the story of how gay Americans organised, fought the system (and often each other) and slowly, by becoming the experts in the field, forced a reluctant pharmaceutical and governmental establishment to deliver better Aids drugs. The breakthroughs of the early 1990s, which came about mostly by using a cocktail of already existing drugs, turned HIV/Aids from a death sentence into something more akin to an annoyance. The film’s strength is its abundant archive footage – the fractious meetings, the appalling callousness of certain politicians who seemed more interested in how the disease was acquired than what it did, the relentless protesting, placarding and civil disobedience necessary to get the logjam moving. Talking heads from the drugs industry, particularly Merck, who seemed to lead the way, deliver scientific backbone. And there’s interviews with HIV-positive activists then and now – some didn’t make it – which add emotional piquancy. And how healthy they look, by and large, 30 years on. Well done, everybody.
Dom Hemingway (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
It seems that every few years Jude Law tries a cockney geezer routine. It didn’t work in Alfie, the woeful remake of the 1966 Michael Caine film. And it doesn’t work here either. Law plays a lairy hardman who we first meet getting a blowjob from a prison inmate, a scene which establishes Dom – “they should study my cock in art classes” – as a swaggering, dangerous firecracker, before he’s released back into the wild. There he reteams with Dickie, an old aide-de-campe, played by Richard E Grant as a Withnail who’s fallen slightly on hard times. These early scenes as Dom and Dickie get re-acquainted are very enjoyable. But more is to come as the pair of them head off to meet a Russian gangster – Demian Bechir again excellent here – where Hemingway’s extreme version of masculinity butts heads with the Russian’s, leading to the film’s outstanding moments of drama and comedy. After that the film simply runs out of gas, introduces by way of a “Plot B” the estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke, of Game of Thrones) Hemingway is trying to become reconciled with, and starts to disappear up the avenue of mawkishness.
Frozen (Disney, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD/Download)
I had heard great things about Frozen. “Disney’s best animation in 20 years” and so on. So it came as something of a disappointment to discover how mediocre it was. The Snow Queen crossed with Pixar’s Brave – feisty girl heads off to save her ice-generating sister in some frozen region – it’s unremarkable as a story, and only really picks up when the comedy snowman Olaf is goofing about on-screen, which thankfully he does quite a lot. Frozen has songs too, which reminded me of that Eric Idle song spoofing generic Broadway “The Song That Goes Like This”, numbers that always rise to an affirmative honking high note before dwindling away to a “little old me” ending. Animation addicts might like Frozen though – it’s a complex mix of various techniques and the 3D is well rendered, the nature and water effects are excellent and there are some lovely touches, such as dandelion clocks floating in the breeze, which left me wishing there’d been more. Its real stumbling block though is how 2D the characters are – unmemorable, drippy even. And considering that they’re meant to be ice hardened, that’s just not right.
© Steve Morrissey 2014