Out in the UK this week
Robot & Frank (Entertainment One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Telling the story of an old guy who is losing his marbles and his will to live, this smallscale film drops us into the action at just about the point when his family have had enough of him and have sourced him a helper robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). It’s the future, it seems, though it’s not a future that dissimilar to our own. The old guy, played with all the colours in the palette by Frank Langella, turns out to have been a career criminal, a bad dad, a poor husband. Where his mind is at is where the film is at – though you could equally well say that it’s about reminding us how good Langella is when he’s given the space. It’s a funny, smart, cool and entertaining film with a sting in the tail and there are tiny roles for James Marsden and Liv Tyler. And it will doubtless be overlooked by many because “some old guy” is in it.
Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner, cert 12, download)
The reviews for this seem to have been a bit half-hearted but it is in fact a brilliantly told fairy story starring Nicholas Hoult as the Jack of Beanstalk fame. I suspect that the reason it got the middling reception is because the critics were watching it as a kiddie film for adults – the way Shrek is – an entirely reasonable thing to do given that it’s directed by Bryan Singer and at least part-written by Christopher McQuarrie, both of whom worked on The Usual Suspects. In fact, in spite of the 12 certificate, this film is better seen as an entertainment for bloodthirsty eight-year-olds (what’s a couple of stabbings in the chest here and there?). The casting, apart from Eleanor Tomlinson as the slightly wan princess, is uniformly excellent – Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Eddie Marsan all delivering exactly what is asked of them, which is, respectively, nobility, wickedness, heroics, snivelling and the salt of this very earth. I suspect this wonderful cinematic pantomime will rise up the rankings as the years pass.
Arbitrage (Koch, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Another of those enjoyably reptilian turns by Richard Gere, here playing an uber-capitalist whose world of corporate chicanery starts to come crashing down after a Bonfire of the Vanities-style interruption to the normal epic flow of his life. Enter Tim Roth as a Columbo style detective on his case, and Susan Sarandon as his wife, well cast for a change as a woman not unfamiliar with the crooked way. Its trick – it is Gere’s trick really – is to keep us watching this moneyed lowlife and to sympathise as he wriggles and jiggles to get off the pin he’s on. Will he do it? That’s the dramatic heart of the film. Which is why it’s so baffling when, towards the end, the film’s focus starts to wander away from our protagonist and towards his wife and daughter. Until then, Arbitrage has been bang on the money.
Flying Blind (Soda, cert 15, DVD)
Older woman Helen McCrory (excellent) locks loins with a younger man – result: sexual fireworks. What we know about her is that she’s a weapons researcher .What we know about him is that he’s a Muslim. So right off the bat this one is heading in a familiar direction. Enjoyable texture comes from an exploration of the idea of the sexual older woman. There’s also an almost-discussion of Edward Said’s notion of orientalism (ie the heady allure of the exotic gentleman). Plus an examination of the guilt, or otherwise, of the liberal middle classes (see Michael Haneke’s Hidden for the full fat version). These interesting ideas are wrapped in a crass plotline – I mean, she works on drones, for god’s sake. Drones! At no point does our gifted, brilliant, engaged heroine realise that her day job might in some way be the reason a much younger man has the hots for her. If you can ignore that failure to integrate character with plot, Flying Blind’s elephant in the room, you’ll enjoy this well played drama, its TV-ish looks and programmatic soundtrack notwithstanding.
Identity Thief (Universal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Identity Thief is Melissa McCarthy’s reward for doing what she did to Bridesmaids, which was to knock it off its rails every time it started getting too safe. Here she’s playing a shiftless identity thief who, having cloned Jason Bateman’s credit cards etc, is surprised when he turns up to face her down – why he has to do this rather than the police is the sort of detour the film is happy to make but you kind of wish it hadn’t. Other unwelcome side journeys include plotlines for superfluous characters – Genesis Rodriguez and TI as a couple of nasties also on their trail, plus Jason Patrick as a raddled bounty hunter – all of whom are there just to contribute to the gunzapoppin’ ending, which arrives about 20 minutes later than it really ought to. But McCarthy is undoubtedly funny, and her ability to riff filthy is what makes this overlong, overstuffed film worth a peek.
Happiness Runs (Matchbox, cert 15, DVD)
This weird, interesting, ambitious drama with an axe to grind against the 1960s is about the offspring of hippies living on a commune that’s seen better days. The kids are all fucked up, thanks to their parents’ “whatever, man” philosophy. The parents, meanwhile, are still peddling the “letting it all hang out” guff to naïve city girls who are happy to offer their bodies in return for an afternoon of chanting and cod-Eastern noodling. We see all this through the eyes of Becky (Hanna Hall), a child of the commune who has returned from the city, a young woman who sees the bullshit for what it is, in a film that sets out to take down the hippie edifice, but then botches the mission, mostly by focusing on the wrong people. In other words, with a bit more Rutger Hauer (the commune guru) and fellow elders including Andie MacDowell, this would have been a much better film – let the dog see the rabbit, for god’s sake. Or maybe I’m getting it all wrong and the lack of focus, feeling of dislocation, wild changes in visual style and characterisation, plus Hall’s tendency to keep taking her clothes off for very little reason, is director/writer Adam Sherman’s attempt to create the visual analogue of psychedelic music. Maybe.
© Steve Morrissey 2013