Thursday, 26 March 2015

1,001 Films: "Gimme Shelter" (1970)

At once a landmark documentary, and a deeply problematic one, Gimme Shelter starts out as a record of the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the US - a response, perhaps, to Don't Look Back, Pennebaker's 1967 film of Bob Dylan touring the UK - before pulling back to reveal we're no longer live on stage with Mick and the boys performing "Jumpin' Jack Flash", but mired in the edit suite with the three documentary makers (brothers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) at the tour's conclusion. The showmen of rock are hereby reduced to the passive position of spectators, looking at monitors and reacting to what's already happened: the fatal stabbing of a fan amid the chaos of Altamont by one of the Hell's Angels recruited as an ad hoc security detail for this concert in particular. It's the moment when this touring lark became much less of a gas, gas, gas; a moment that captures, in a few frames on a Steenbeck, the murderous madness of America as it entered the 1970s.

The central issue of Gimme Shelter is whether allowing the film's subjects into post-production comprises a legitimate tactic or something of a stitch-up on the part of the filmmakers. It's interesting that the Maysles and Zwerin separate out the Stones, presenting the fateful footage to one band member at a time, as though these were criminals being interrogated to see whether their alibis for the night in question matched up. What they - and we - see is, of course, horribly compelling, less a set building towards the big finale than a countdown to a disaster. Showbiz lawyer Melvin Belli bluffs his way through the early venue negotiations; the concert footage comes to resemble the dark side of Woodstock (released the same year, yet unfolding seemingly half a world away). Organised - in the loosest sense of that word - under the credo "let it happen", Altamont was fractious, with acid casualties staging pitched battles both on and off-stage even before Keith Richards struck up the opening chords of "Sympathy for the Devil".

The Maysles/Zwerin team take care to include a good deal of Stones music, perhaps to placate fans, because not even Godard (in 1968's One Plus One) put the band under this level of sustained scrutiny. As it plays out, how much the group were responsible for Altamont remains open to question: certainly Jagger cuts a pitiable figure on stage, suddenly removed of his swagger and murmuring "Sam, we need an ambulance... I don't know what the fuck I'm doing." (It is, if nothing else, a potent film about the limitations of rock stars, and the limitations of music to make the world a better place; it tears away several subsequent Band-Aids and confronts us with the ugly wounds no guitar riff can heal.) It shares with Don't Look Back an interest in just what it means to be in the eye of the storm and/or the camera, or in the middle of a crossfire hurricane, but - for all the electrifying content it gathers up and pores over - you do sense a long-disproved equation lurking somewhere behind it all: rock 'n' roll = damaging to our nation's youth. It's a brilliant film, made by squares.

Gimme Shelter is available on DVD through Warner Home Video.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of March 13-15, 2015: 
1 (1) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) **
2 (new) Run All Night (15) *** 
3 (2) Focus (12A) **
4 (new) Suite Française (15) **
5 (3) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
6 (4) Chappie (15) **
7 (8) Still Alice (12A) *** 
8 (5) Big Hero 6 (PG) ***
9 (7) Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) *
10 (6) Shaun the Sheep Movie (U) ***


My top five:   
1. Far From the Madding Crowd
2. My Name is Salt
3. X+Y
4. Maxine Peake as Hamlet
5. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (12)
2 (1) The Imitation Game (12) ***
3 (2) Mr. Turner (12) *****
4 (3) The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG) ***
5 (4) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
6 (5) Nightcrawler (15) ***
7 (7) The Equalizer (15)
8 (6) '71 (15) ***
9 (8) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12) **
10 (new) My Old Lady (12) **

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. Paddington [above]
3. White Bird in a Blizzard
4. Mea Culpa
5. La Maison de la Radio

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Glory (Friday, BBC2, 11.35pm)
2. Michael Collins (Saturday, BBC2, 12.25am)
3. Coogan's Bluff (Friday, ITV1, 11.40pm)
4. Twister (Sunday, ITV1, 4pm)
5. A Serious Man (Tuesday, BBC1, 11.35pm)

"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" (The Guardian 20/03/15)

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya ***
Dir: Isao Takahata. Animation with the voices of: Aki Asakura (original version), Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen (English dub). 137 mins. Cert: U

Princess Kaguya’s Oscar nod – in an animation field missing The Lego Movie – actually proves far less instructive than 2013’s inside-Ghibli doc The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, where a beleaguered Hayao Miyazaki pushed through The Wind Rises while stablemate Isao Takahata skulked off-screen, mired in production delays. The latter’s decade-in-the-planning take on a Japanese folk legend has a bounteous opening – a woodsman discovers a child in a bamboo shoot, and raises her as a princess – before a flat midsection that sees Kaguya wait around her palace for treasure-hunting suitors. Here, Takahata appears to press his own passivity and indecision onto his character; for a narrative about life’s transitory nature, it doesn’t half start to drag. Lush, hand-painted images offer plentiful consolation, but its beauty forms a gilded cage: up until the undeniably moving final movements, it just feels several shades too constrained to fully honour its heroine’s restless, questing spirit. 

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is now screening in selected cinemas, in both dubbed and subtitled prints.

"Wild Card" (The Guardian 20/03/15)

Wild Card **
Dir: Simon West. With: Jason Statham, Michael Angarano, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Hope Davis. 92 mins. Cert: 15

This should have confirmed Jason Statham’s upward career mobility: it’s fabled screenwriter William Goldman’s second big-screen pass at his own novel Heat, which sees The Stath, assuming a sometime Burt Reynolds role as a Vegas gambler who falls foul of the Mob, trading lines (if not blows) with a half-dozen or so legit performers. It emerges, alas, as a compromise, hedging its bets between cheery, characterful Ocean’s-ish caper and brute-force beat-‘em-up; we’re offered traces of both, and yet not enough of either to satisfy. Notable faces (Sofia Vergara, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche) vanish without trace, and Our Jase struggles with Goldman’s distinctly American, hard-boiled dialogue. Pity. 

Wild Card is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

"Home" (Telegraph 20/03/15)

Home **

Dir: Tim Johnson. Animation with the voices of: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Jones. U cert, 94 min

Disney’s Big Hero 6 may have pipped DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 at this year’s Oscars, yet the latter studio has arguably displayed greater consistency of late, smart gagwriting buoying even their holiday filler (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar) above a rising tide of 3D product. What, then, happened with new release Home? It has a fun-sounding premise (an alien invasion of Earth), and a veteran director in Tim Johnson (Antz, Over the Hedge), and still makes for a most underwhelming matinee. Perhaps everyone was saving themselves for the forthcoming Minions; savvier parents may consider doing likewise.

Its single best joke flies by early, with the revelation that Oh (voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons), head coward of chameleonic aliens the Boov, is so named for the disappointed reaction his presence engenders. There’s a zappiness about the invasion itself, which relocates humanity to massive ballpools in Australia: the kind of subjugation any fan of sun and fun might abide. It’s Oh who spoils the party, CC-ing a birthday evite to the entire galaxy, and thereby alerting the Boov’s mortal enemies to their whereabouts; subsequently exiled, he encounters the one human left behind – Tip (Rihanna), a young Barbadian seeking her mom.

Tip’s quest is template, and not invulnerable to sentiment; where the Penguins spin-off pursued big, stupid bellylaughs, Home is clearly aiming for U-rated cute. Yet it never gets its lines of approach right. The characterisation’s slightly off, for one: with his cinnamon-bun ears and wheedling voice, the shapeshifting Oh’s a cross between Lena Dunham and Jar Jar Binks – an acquired taste, to say the least. And while Tip provides another step forward for onscreen representation, bum-flashing popstrel Rihanna makes a curious choice as innocent; she has, however, tossed several filler songs into those montages by which Johnson strives to plug the copious narrative gaps.

The animators keep it busy and colourful without ever seducing the eye: even a set-piece involving an inverted Eiffel Tower passes without generating a truly memorable image. Mostly, Home resembles that standardised fodder now routinely pitched at easily distracted youngsters: all but indistinguishable from the already bargain-binned Planet 51 and Escape from Planet Earth, it shrivels when set against DreamWorks’ own Monsters vs. Aliens from 2009. Animation has become a crowded field, and perhaps we shouldn’t always expect something out of this world, but this underdeveloped offering barely lifts itself off the drawing board. It’s very, very… oh.

Home is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

"A Second Chance" (Telegraph 20/03/15)

A Second Chance **

Dir: Susanne Bier. With: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ulrich Thomsen, May Andersen, Thomas Bo Larsen. 15 cert, 102 min

The pairing of director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen have formed an arthouse mainstay for over a decade, but their run may be nearing an end: taking a break from their usual brooding melodramas resulted in 2012’s sunnily insubstantial Love is All You Need, while Bier crashed flying solo over Hollywood with last year’s ill-fated Serena. At their best – in 2002’s Open Hearts, say – the Bier-Jensen films display a heightened sensitivity to the myriad ways modern lives intersect. At their worst, they can seem like everything Bier’s fellow Dane Lars von Trier mocks them for: penny-dreadful scenarios presenting ludicrous contrivances in the beigest manner imaginable.

Their latest A Second Chance means to signify a creative rebirth – babies feature prominently – yet it founders in negotiating a meeting of two very diverse households. Here, the council flat of junkies Tristan and Sanne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas and May Andersen), shooting up before their faeces-smeared infant; there, the fairylit rural idyll in which conscientious cop Andreas and wife Anna (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Maria Bonnevie) are raising their own newborn. Worlds collide via a naggingly unpersuasive switcheroo: when the prince’s son expires one night, he elects to disregard official procedure and swap with the pauper. What, possibly, could go wrong?

As elsewhere in the Bier canon, raw-nerve acting helps sustain the dramatic high-wire act for a while: we’re so struck by the emotions playing across these actors’ faces that we don’t notice their stumbling feet. There’s something compelling in Bonnevie’s grief at being deprived of the last item of soft furnishing required to complete her ideal home; likewise, in watching Coster-Waldau – nowadays most often cast as stock-Hollywood handsome (Game of Thrones) – feeling his granite-hewn jawline subside under the strain of maintaining this equilibrium. Yet that strain increasingly owes less to reality than Jensen’s flagrant manipulation.

If this were black comedy – with Andreas established as an obvious loose cannon – we’d maybe play along, but Bier’s reaching for sincerity: the sketchy rationale offered for the cop’s actions is the soapy-romantic one that he’s trying to spare his beloved from self-sacrifice – a line that threatens to make patsies out of everyone, including the audience. Some of the ambience sticks – a lake laps ominously at a twilit shore – and does nothing to diminish Bier’s reputation as among our most sensitive storytellers. Yet this tale, more mechanical than human, is finally beyond her skillset: it required ruthless tinkering, not the softly-softly approach.

A Second Chance is now playing in selected cinemas.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of March 6-8, 2015: 
1 (1) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (12A) **
2 (3) Focus (12A) **
3 (2) Fifty Shades of Grey (18)
4 (new) Chappie (15) **
5 (4) Big Hero 6 (PG) ***
6 (5) Shaun the Sheep Movie (U) ***
7 (6) Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) *
8 (new) Still Alice (12A) *** 
9 (new) Unfinished Business (15) **
10 (8) It Follows (15) ****


My top five:   
1. The Sound of Music
2. Far From the Madding Crowd
3. My Name is Salt
4. X+Y
5. Lou! [above]

Top Ten DVD rentals:  
1 (new) The Imitation Game (12) ***
2 (1) Mr. Turner (12) *****
3 (new) The Hundred-Foot Journey (PG) ***
4 (5) What We Did on Our Holiday (12)
5 (2) Nightcrawler (15) ***
6 (new) '71 (15) ***
7 (4) The Equalizer (15)
8 (3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12) **
9 (new) Lucy (12) **
10 (6) The Babadook (15) ****

My top five:  
1. Mr. Turner
2. White Bird in a Blizzard
3. The Skeleton Twins
4. '71
5. The Imitation Game

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Outbreak (Monday, five, 10.50pm)
2. North West Frontier (Saturday, BBC2, 1.25pm)
3. True Lies (Saturday, C4, 11.30pm)
4. Control (Wednesday, C4, 12.55am)
5. Hitch (Saturday, five, 12.30pm)