Out in the UK This Week
The Conspiracy (Arrow, cert 15, Blu-ray)
Mock-doc of the week is about two film-makers (Aaron Poole and James Gilbert), a pair of cocky guys who think it would be kinda cool to turn the camera on a local conspiracy nut who harangues office workers with his loudhailer. The Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, the CIA, whatever’s going, being his currency. So far, so standard. Quick namecheck of Alan C Peterson, who is very very good as the stumbling, bumbling, frothing ranter. But at about 15 minutes in, this standard piece of “what’s true/what’s not” mockuwhatnot morphs into something altogether different, after the guys’ amateur fulminator disappears and the two start to take over his investigations into a shady secret society, the Taurus Group. At this point we stay stylistically in mock-doc world but thematically we enter the terrain of The Wicker Man. As James and Aaron work their way further into the murk, the film becomes almost unbearably tense, genuinely shocking and yet manages to hold on to a few revelatory thrills right to the end. A cracking conspiracy thriller.
World War Z (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Yet more zombies. And as if we needed proof that they have indeed taken over Hollywood, here’s Brad Pitt in zombie-killing mode as an international deadbuster dressed in the most casual of fatigues, advising governments as a globetrotting UN ambassador for badassery. World War Z is big budget rubbish. Good fun here and there, it has some interestingly novel ideas (the zombies can’t hear you, so if you go on tippie toes and don’t breathe, you stand a chance). And it takes an inordinately long detour into Israel, where that big wall they’ve been building against the Palestinians turns out to be a great bulwark against ye zombie horde. Marc Forster directed Quantum of Solace and possibly expected to do Skyfall, and all through World War Z we keep getting overtones of 007 (there’s even a John Barry-lite score). All of which in a better movie – the hearing business, the Israel propaganda business and the 007 sour grapes business – would be a royal pain in the ass. But take all that away from this movie and, to be honest, you’d have Peter Capaldi and a bunch of scientists talking biopathogenic exposition in a government lab in Wales, a handful of visually arresting images of zombies swarming in Israel and not much else. My, but doesn’t it look great. And Brad’s beard and hair, man…
The Deep (Metrodome, cert 12, DVD)
This is a genuinely odd film that leaves you guessing even after it’s finished. Not in terms of plot but in terms of genre. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, back in his native Iceland after the not particularly great Contraband (a remake of his slightly better Reykjavik-Rotterdam), it’s about Gulli (Olafur Darri Olafsson), a big, drinky bear of an Icelandic trawler fisherman whose boat goes down in February, with the loss (eventually) of everyone on board. At which point Gulli sets his face towards the shore miles away and starts swimming. Is it a spoiler if I tell you whether he gets there or not? Not entirely. Because the fascinating thing about this true story is not so much the epic swim or the biological “impossibility” of anyone surviving immersion in water that cold for that long, but what Kormákur does with the material. Turning initially from a rock-solid and flavour-filled portrait of Icelandic fishermen, which I would happily have watched as it was, into a thriller, then a psychological study, then almost a sci-fi film and finally into something almost classifiable as poetry, it’s a film that starts loud, ends gorgeous and hits nearly every change of tone plumb centre. As for the ending dedication to the trawlermen of Iceland, brilliant.
Curse of Chucky (Universal, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
The evil doll from the Child’s Play film hasn’t actually been on screen for about ten years. Which is probably a big enough gap for viewers, and for Don Mancini, the writer/director who doesn’t seem anxious to work on much else. This is the sixth outing since the first one in 1988, this one starring Fiona Dourif as the poor girl stuck in a wheelchair on whom Chucky is going to focus his malevolence and foul mouth. If it’s a better film than 1998’s Bride of Chucky (though less camp than 2004’s Seed of Chucky), that’s largely down to solid production design and Mancini’s brisk directorial style rather than original content. Chucky was always a tiny, doll spin-off of Freddie and/or Jason, and that era is long gone now. And you kind of know a series is hitting exhaustion when the world and his wife starts taking over directorial/star duties. Fiona D being the daughter of Brad, voice of Chucky, and all.
The East (Fox, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Sound of My Voice was all about a cult being infiltrated by outsiders. It was directed by Zal Batmanglij and starred Brit Marling as the cult leader who might or might not be from “the future”. Now, in The East, Batmanglij and Marling attack the same idea – a cult – from the other end, Marling now playing the innocent inveigling herself into an eco-terrorist outfit. But if Sound of My Voice was largely a success because Batmanglij and Marling kept a lot of things off the table, The East fails for the same reasons. Like, for instance, how come a spy working for a private organisation is so naive as to not understand what eco-terrorists stand for, on at least some level? How can a supposed member of an eco-terrorist outfit regularly leave the group she’s infiltrated, to report back to base (Patricia Clarkson), have some snuggle time with her boyfriend, and then check back in without anyone asking her where she’s been? There’s also a touch of opportunistic borrowing going on, Alexander Skarsgård’s cult leader feeling like a copy of John Hawkes’s sinister smiling demagogue in Martha Marcy May Marlene. As for gang member Ellen Page, who feels as if she has been bolted on simply to deliver the Ellen Page quantum, she may be only 25 but that naive kid shtick isn’t working any more.
Hummingbird (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A movie about down-and-out Jason Statham picking himself up out of destitution in London and going to work for a Chinese triad boss, becoming a Jesus figure to the poor to expiate the guilt he feels over his time in either/or Afghanistan/Iraq. Before saying how problematical this Jason Statham film is, let me say how much I love Statham films. At their best they are an artform in themselves, all of them understanding implicitly that what movies do best is move, while Statham understands that the best thing he can do is just stand there, simmering. But back to Hummingbird (more sensibly called Redemption in some countries), which does not work, partly because it is trying to “fix” what does not need fixing by taking the plot of Dirty Pretty Things (written by Steven Knight, who writes/directs here) about two dislocated souls in down and dirty London and tacking it onto a Statham action movie. And partly because Knight may be great at many things but directing is not one of them, no matter how much help he’s getting from DP Chris Menges, clearly on an instruction to “do some Christopher Doyle stuff” with all the coloured gels. As for the subplot about Statham falling for a nun, and her falling for him, can we not leave that to the Sound of Music?
Summer in February (Metrodome, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Talking of things that don’t work, how about Dominic Cooper as the roaring Edwardian bohemian painter AJ Munnings, a carousing kind of chap who actually existed (hated Modernism, thought Picasso couldn’t draw, all barely touched on here lest it frighten the horses) and in between dashing off canvases that expressed his genius, bedded whatever took his fancy. Over there is lovely Emily Browning (of Sleeping Beauty and on her way to wherever she wants to go). And on the other side is Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame), a toff with a soft spot for the gel. That’s “gel” with a hard G, because this is a terribly and typically British film, full of great actors – Cooper is great, Stevens too, and Browning. Everyone is great in fact, though Hattie Morahan, in a teeny tiny role, is so great that the film goes into the psychological deep end every time she speaks. And it all looks so fabulous too, all that charging around on horses, buying beer in the pub on tick, while the strings and oboes and the odd cello saw away on the soundtrack. As for the plot – will Ems go for posh Dan or almost as posh Dom? Will she go for loot or art? The call of the wild or the call of the mild? In its determination to leave no clichéd situation unturned, no character over-developed, Summer in February is, as they might say in Downton, a damnably dull affair.
© Steve Morrissey 2013