Out in the UK this week
Iron Man 3 (Disney, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD/VOD)
Drawing a veil over the fact that Avengers Assemble was in effect Iron Man 3, the official Iron Man 3 arrives with Jon Favreau bumped from directing duties and Shane Black in the writing/directing chair. Black wrote the Lethal Weapon films and, blow me, if he hasn’t turned Iron Man – one of the best superhero franchises of recent years, thanks to its understanding of the sheer exhilaration of being able to do cool stuff – into a leaden, clanking 1980s action movie. Yes, Black can fashion a quip, and Robert Downey Jr is certainly the man to deliver them, but Black can do little else. Iron Man 3 is inept at the level of direction, shoddy in terms of story and, worst of all, boring. Slow, badly photographed, over-reliant on big set pieces (and apart from one, even they’re not that great), it threatens to get good when Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is forced into making an emergency exit from his mansion and touches down in nowheresville where he has to get along without the Iron Man suit for a while. Enter a cute kid – another 1980s action movie staple – and exit any vestige of self-respect that Black might have had. It might just be a pastiche, a joke, I suppose, though Black is wandering uncertainly between tropes that were worn out in the 1980s and those that expired in the 1970s. There is even a big finish in an industrial complex, for god’s sake. It wasn’t just me – I watched this with a friend who also loves big noisy superhero movies. He kept turning to me and pulling the wha? face.
Suspension of Disbelief (Verve, cert 15, DVD)
There are two Mike Figgises – the crowdpleasing one who directs Leaving Las Vegas or the odd episode of The Sopranos, and the other one, the one who’s interested in the role of fiction in a world of mediated reality – the one who made the almost impenetrable Co/Ma. And as soon as the quote from the theoretical psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung came up at the beginning of Suspension of Disbelief it was obvious which Figgis we were getting here. Jung’s quote suggests that the notion of “suspending disbelief” is erroneous, that people become far more engaged in fiction than that, and in fact “write” themselves into any drama they’re consuming. Cut to the excellently urbane Sebastian Koch (of The Lives of Others), playing a writer whose wife has disappeared, whose daughter is now starring in a film he scripted, who gives lectures on the nature of fiction at a local college, who is being investigated by a policeman who thinks the writer might be the killer of a girl who has recently disappeared. The copper himself has written a whodunit. The dead girl’s twin sister turns up – or is it the girl herself? It all gets very tangled. Meanwhile, as dramas within the drama unfold, Figgis deploys all sorts of Brechtian distancing techniques to stop us identifying at any emotional level with what’s going on, as if he’s testing Jung’s hypothesis – let’s see them “write” themselves into this, then, Carl. This is the same sort of maddening tricksiness he used in Co/Ma. But whereas Co/Ma was co/ma-inducing, Suspension of Disbelief is actually rather gripping. That’s because the spine – featuring Koch, the writer and his dastardly deeds – is a proper whodunit, and because there are some great nuggetty performances, from the likes of Frances De La Tour, Kenneth Cranham and the underused Julian Sands, all delivered bewitchingly in a style of heightened realism by a director who is clearly liberated by lightweight digital technology.
21 and Over (E One, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
The leads are Miles Teller, fast-talking dude, Skylar Astin, the nebbish buddy and Justin Chon, the swotty Asian friend the other two take out for the night before his very special university interview and get totally utterly wasted. More importantly the director/writers are Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote The Hangover and seem to think they can run the same script through the equivalent of a synonym machine and get away with it. They can’t. The leads are likeable, though Chon (whose character is referred to by his full name, Jeff Chang, throughout – which did tickle me) is effectively out of the movie 20 minutes in, leaving the other two to dry-hump the memory of Zach Galifianakis and one of the other straight guys from The Hangover. Any one of the Harold & Kumar films is a better bet on every level.
Eden (Clear Vision, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD/VOD)
One of two girls-in-the-sexbiz dvds this week, this one kicking off with a teenage girl being hoiked out of the boot of a car and put to work in a whorehouse full of sex slaves out in the middle of nowhere. Beau Bridges is the boss of the place, nicely effective in the handful of scenes he’s in, leaving the majority of the film to be played out between Matt O’Leary, as a badass in training, and Jamie Chung, as the girl unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a taut, simple and non-exploitational film, well acted, which resists the urge to pull Hitchcock tricks when it could, and maintains dramatic tug by asking the question early on – is our nice kidnappee going to embrace the dark side or hold on to her identity? As for the soundtrack and the cinematography – extremely interesting, drifty, hazy with sweet Americana, and adding a disquieting almost-question about the nature of human worth in a culture too in hock to the dollar.
The Body (Kaleidoscope, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
A man hears that his rich wife’s dead body has disappeared from the morgue before anyone had a chance to perform an autopsy. Did he steal it, so no one would find out that he’d poisoned her? Or did she know what he was up to, fake her own death and has now done a runner to start life a new somewhere? Or is she dead and there’s a ghost on the loose? This Spanish horror-that-might-actually-be-a-police-whodunit has an intriguing plot, plenty of atmosphere and enough talking to keep the United Nations going for a year. Plot? Also, too much. Actors, rather good – Belén Rueda (of The Orphanage) makes a top-class bitch of a wife, José Coronado a fascinating odd policeman with the obligatory terrible past, Hugo Silva the young buck whose wife’s money isn’t enough to keep him from straying. And though the payoff does actually deliver, really rather well, along the way there have been far too many points where you’ll be shouting at the screen “what policeman would let a murder suspect go alone into a room and use his mobile phone?” Not once, not twice, every five/ten minutes.
Ikarie XB-1 (Second Run, cert 12, DVD)
Ticking all the boxes for people who like their sci-fi subtitled, in black and white, over 50 years old and from behind the Iron Curtain – the bakelite radio crowd – this seminal Czech film hums with a bleep-and-booster soundtrack, features wobbly cardboard space stations and stops every now and again to make an attack on capitalism. But but but. It’s really rather remarkable. Based on a Stanislaw Lem story (he of Solaris fame) and set in 2163, it’s set on spaceship heading for Alpha Centauri, a vessel full of happy, healthy people who eat futuristic food, exercise their well toned bodies in a lavish gym, have respect for the learning of their elders, and obey their wise leader, who in turn is attuned to the needs of his crew. You can read that as a vision of communism’s promise for the future, or of what it’s failing to deliver now – take your pick. And you can see Ikarie XB-1 as the clear rip-off point for Star Trek, whose focus on interaction between the member of its crew, its philosophical captain and its “brave new world” optimism is lifted wholesale from Jindrich Polák’s beautifully imagined film, which looks and sounds better than ever thanks to a crisp restoration.
Cherry (Koch, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
A corrective to the relentless “mea non culpa” of the Amanda Seyfried film Lovelace is this Boogie Nights drama also known as About Cherry, written by an ex porn star and starring Ashley Hinshaw as a smalltown girl who goes into the porn biz with an access-all-areas attitude. Hinshaw is excellent and probably rather brave, and the interesting cast includes Dev Patel (the guy from back home who secretly loves Cherry), James Franco (the rich guy who falls for her) and Heather Graham (the lesbian director who shows her the ropes). The view of the porn biz it paints is refreshing – though Lorelei Lee’s screenplay’s insistence on a relentlessly non-coercive, non-exploitational, female-centric industry does smack of protesting too much. Cherry’s porn experience is so lacking in conflict, nastiness, or badness of any sort, in fact, that the drama ends up with a gaping hole in the middle. Insert your own witty punchline here.
© Steve Morrissey 2013