Out in the UK this week
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Having eventually run out of patience with the Lord of the Rings (with the books you could at least skip the endless battle descriptions), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy The Hobbit. I was wrong. Director Peter Jackson has absorbed the humanising touches of the Harry Potter series, the rambunctious sense of fun of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (at its best, I hasten to add. POTC could also be a hell of a drag) and made The Hobbit an immersive piece of storytelling with a lot of energy. Surrender to its flow – enjoy Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, and Martin Freeman’s pretty much perfect Bilbo Baggins – and notice how Jackson spends a lot of time making us feel the warmth and security of the Shire, establishing Bilbo’s essentially home-loving, fearful character before the gang head off on their adventure. The best bit, as in the book, is Bilbo’s initial encounter with Gollum. But there are other tiny delights – Sylvester McCoy’s crazy wizard Radagast the Brown and his rabbit-drawn sled, for one. The plot is entirely familiar – some chat, some peril, a saviour coming over the hill in the nick of time, and if that fails, then magic; repeat until end credits. But it’s all rendered excellently, thanks to the 48 frames-per-second cameras. The technology has moved on from Lord of the Rings and in reality this is much more an animated film with the odd human, the odd helicopter shot of New Zealand. Maybe that’s why it works so well.
Zaytoun (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)
Zaytoun takes a while to get its story up and running – an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian kid in 1980s Lebanon head off on a danger-stewn road trip back to their shared conflicted homeland. And once it does it travels an entirely familiar path. If I were to suggest that each protagonist winds up understanding and liking the other more you probably wouldn’t die of shock. But it’s nicely done, the cinematography is glorious, the acting (Stephen Dorff very good and 13-year-old Abdallah El Akal even better) is subtle and believable and the soundtrack too is entirely appropriate – the mournful twang of the oud suiting entirely the situation out there.
What Richard Did (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Having given us the distinctive Adam & Paul in 2004 and Garage in 2007 – two faintly Pinteresque dramas about people it was hard to like – Lenny Abrahamson turns the tables with a highly individual film following Richard (Jack Reynor), a young Irish man who is a bright, attractive, sporty, academic, decent and funny alpha male whose world is compromised by “what he did”. I won’t ruin the film – which is great – by telling you what it is. It doesn’t matter. Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell have crafted a drama that is almost elemental, a meditation on masculine virtue with a punchy throughline and an almost medieval interest in chivalric behaviour, perfectly disguised by its modern booze-and-craic setting.
Mission to Lars (Clear Vision, cert E, Blu-ray/DVD)
Kate Spicer takes her brother Tom, who has the Fragile X variety of autism, off to meet his hero, Lars Ulrich, drummer with the band Metallica. It’s a challenge/jeopardy style documentary – “will my brother actually get to meet his hero? Will the hero turn out to be an asshole?” – which is undercut by the fact that Spicer is a London journalist with a lot of connections, so automatically has more chance of achieving her goal. The other unmentioned elephant in the room is the film itself. What self-respecting metal band whose glory days are perhaps behind them wouldn’t fancy a bit of positive publicity? These objections melt away as the documentary progresses and the other story starts to exert itself – of a careerist sister re-connecting with her flesh and blood. Grins from ear to ear. Very lovely.
I, Anna (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)
Charlotte Rampling’s son, Barnaby Southcombe, made this and he got mum to star in it, playing a rather odd woman who murders – or did she? – some guy she met at a speed-dating event. If the idea of Rampling riding on a bus, working in a place that looks like a department store is unsettling enough, the fact of her being in a genre thriller is also pretty unusual and sets us up for some unexpected shocks. These arrive in the shape of Gabriel Byrne, as a detective obsessed with Anna, who doesn’t realise she might be the killer he’s looking for. That is not a spoiler, by the way, the film delivers at least two more plot twists that arrive entirely unannounced and only serve to drop us further into potboiler territory. Byrne and Rampling are good though, particularly the scenes they play together, where it’s as if we can see right into their thoughts, while their mouths spew out all manner of other nonsense. I think that’s called great acting.
Love Crime (Arrow, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)
A French psycho thriller starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a high-flying executive, Ludivigne Sagnier as the younger assistant whose wealth of bright ideas and youthful ambition mean she’s heading for a showdown – one that involves someone’s death. It’s a plot-driven affair, so no more of that here. Suffice to say that Love Crime has found a new wrinkle on the old formula. Though why it takes so long to inform us of that fact I really don’t know.
Entertaining Mr Sloane (StudioCanal, cert 15, DVD)
This dark, sex-obsessed comedy from 1970, the best translation of any Joe Orton play to the screen, is also the best performance on film by Beryl Reid, playing Kath, a tubby menopausal woman with a penchant for see-through clothes who is entirely taken in by the randy young buck (Peter McEnery) she encounters one day sunbathing in a cemetery. Mr Sloane is of course a rotter. The film’s great dramatic trick is that Kath’s family are even worse. Entertaining Mr Sloane sees Joe Orton taking on the farce, the 1960s obsession with youth and the availability of easy sex and throwing a pot of piss over them all. It’s a dyspeptic British classic.
© Steve Morrissey 2013