Thursday, 31 January 2013

1,001 Films: "Mon Oncle" (1958)


"Put your things away, and don't make a mess." The command uttered by a mother to her son in Jacques Tati's second outing as M. Hulot in some way defines what Mon Oncle is getting at: it's also the sort of brief the authorities give to urban planning chiefs, and thus gets instilled in the populace at large. Tati here sought to contrast marketplace- and townsquare-warmth - the chatter, the stray dogs, the litter - with the sterility and clean, cold lines of the suburbs; the irony is that Hulot's neatfreak relatives fear that it's our hero who might be the lonely one, and thus try to squeeze him into a proper job at a joyless plastics factory. Naturally, regimented routines and respectability are not for this klutz - and he tries to save his young nephew Gérard from being tidied away with him.

As with much of Tati's later filmography, this is high-concept comedy, designed - and that is the right word - to be theorised about at least as much as it is meant to be laughed at: when I say it's the thinking person's comedy, I intend it to sound like both a compliment and an index of its limitations, a suggestion it might not be as purely funny as the sensation of watching, say, Chaplin kicking a fat man up the bum. (Tati's icon status maybe explains why the French similarly gravitated towards Jerry Lewis, whose films preserved Tati's design, but replaced his slightly detached, academic quality with an unapologetic American showmanship - that desire, rather lacking here, to kick ass and tear shit up.)

The jokes are secondary to the point being made, and while the point holds - particularly when you consider how sterile and homogenous our towns have become through decades of safe, control-freak planning - traces of Luddism can be glimpsed in the vision: you don't necessarily have to be a health-and-safety Nazi to believe waffle sellers with filthy hands might not be entirely good for our children. Meanwhile, the finicky aesthetic gets pushed to such a degree that it goes round the back of reason and ends up contradicting the film's own argument. Though the ideal home of Gérard's parents requires endless maintenance - particularly when compared to Tati's happily ramshackle top-floor apartment - and fosters more stress than satisfaction, you can't help but admire the ingenuity of its design: the fountain shaped like a leaping metallic salmon that has to be switched on every time there are visitors; the spray-gun for gravy; the coffee pot that's also part football.

This, one might venture, is the problem with laying out your critique of consumerism in the fulsome, expensive style of a *Wallpaper magazine shoot, or the IKEA catalogue: certain items catch the eye, and become must-haves. (TV's Mad Men has the exact same issue.) At a time when most screen comedy possesses all the visual appeal of a brown paper bag left out in the rain, it may be churlish to carp at something this compulsively (and often compellingly) choreographed, yet Tati's desire to do something brilliant with every shot, even when he falls short, results in a film equal parts amusing and exhausting: there are episodes of Keeping Up Appearances that make the same point in the same ratio at a quarter of the length, and there are Laurel and Hardy shorts on the same theme that simply rack up more (and bigger) laughs.

Mon Oncle is available on DVD through the BFI.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Touch me, I'm sick: "Antiviral"


Viruses and celebrities. According to Brandon (son of David) Cronenberg's debut feature Antiviral, these - and not cockroaches - are what society will be reduced to at some point in the none-too-distant future. Private clinics will allow the likes of you and I to be injected and infected with whatever comes out of our idols' bodies, the idea being that, if you've got what they've got - whether that be a common cold or cough or, let's say, the Hilton strain of herpes simplex - your life will somehow be the better for it. If sex tapes have gone viral, bringing us closer to the chosen few (whether or not we care to go there), why shouldn't everything else?

Cronenberg's film unfolds in a familiar sci-fi environment: numbed and sterile white, each set's antiseptic walls and floors would seem to be waiting for some bloody transgression or other signs of life. (Even the sky, when we see it, appears drained of all colour.) Our hero is himself a pallid redhead, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), never too far from a sniffle. An employee at the exclusive Lucas Clinic, Syd has started to take his work home with him, injecting himself with these viruses - copyright-protected, like the formula for celebrity fragrances - and then cloning them for sale on the black market. 

After the apparent death of one of the starlets the clinic represents, Syd, too, soon finds himself a wanted man, a commodity, bundled into the back of a black car with darkened windows by burly security men you probably wouldn't want to cross. These minders may not necessarily be there to protect him, however. We know things are getting bleak when doctor Malcolm McDowell shows up with an armful of celebrity skingrafts, to offer his considered diagnosis: "I'm afraid you've become involved in something sinister..."

In truth, Antiviral functions less as a satisfactory narrative than as a moodpiece, chilling and satirical by turns, which fosters a sickly, creeping ambience. (I can see why a section of the Cannes audience took against it, but that doesn't make it any less effective.) The most persuasive stuff here is going on over Syd's shoulders. TV screens in the clinic's waiting room belch out snatches of gossip, celebrity titbits: there's a feature on one celebrity's "anus ordeal" that leaves us wondering how that o-word has mutated in recent times, and whether eventually any part of the celebrity anatomy will be deemed off-limits.

Cronenberg makes a pretty funny gag out of the fact we never find out what any of these people did to get famous in the first place - there's no music, no movies in this world, and no televisual counter-programming; the only culture we see is that being grown in Petri dishes - and extracts at least one choice irony: the celebrities used to advertise the clinic's services exude surface perfection, but the underlying business model demands they be just as vulnerable to infection as anybody else.

There are occasional visual flourishes - like Syd's vivid fever dreams, which are the closest any Western film has yet come to the sprouting strangeness of those Tetsuo movies - but Cronenberg harvests just as many effects by keeping his camera close to his leading man's vampire-translucent skin, watching the veins there bulge and flicker. It's a chilly film, and almost clinically composed, but within these poised images, Cronenberg always finds a way to bring us back to the body horror his father has rather backed away from of late: the needle puncturing the dermis, the cut to the marrow, the image seared onto the eye. You might understandably choose to hold Antiviral at arm's length, but it's an insinuating debut, to say the least.

Antiviral opens in selected cinemas from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on February 11.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

1,001 Films: "Ashes and Diamonds" (1958)


In the final hours of World War II, two Polish hitmen assigned to murder a Government minister who's been accused of Nazi collaboration mistakenly attack the wrong convoy; the Minister escapes unharmed and, on the day of the German surrender, checks into the same hotel the hitmen are themselves staying in. Most of the action in Andrzej Wajda's drama Ashes and Diamonds unfolds that night, as the hired guns - one with a deep-seated sense of responsibility to the Resistance's aims, his junior (the sparky Zbigniew Cybulski, more commonly known as "the Polish James Dean") keener to chat up the hotel barmaid - hole up and bide their time while deciding how necessary it is for them, now that the War is over, to carry out their orders.

What follows doesn't quite work as the gripping morality play the premise might suggest, because Wajda - here completing the Resistance trilogy he started with 1955's A Generation and 1957's Kanal - often seems more interested in tangential business. His interest lies in sketching studies of those characters who would come to make up "the new Poland": grieving widows and haughty ministers, tipsy hacks and disillusioned footsoldiers, would-be impresarios and over-compensating hosts. As we wait for the central impasse to be resolved, Wajda's camera turns away, looking further yet afield, watching the tanks rolling out of the streets and the military leaving their posts, and offering up some very striking directorial flourishes. 

A statue of Christ hangs upside down from the rafters of a ruined church. Fireworks light up the scene of an assassination attempt. The title derives from a local saying, equivalent to "every cloud has a silver lining". And yet we grasp some silver linings - like the end of occupation - arrive amid clouds; what the film describes is a long, dark night of the collective Polish soul. The evening drags on, leaving us with a clear sense of a nation left shell-shocked by both the conflict, and the bullets that started to ring out in the cold light of peacetime. A prolonged death scene sees one of the leading players becoming tangled up in washing lines, suggesting the sheets weren't ever going to be kept as clean as the authorities might have liked.

Ashes and Diamonds is available on DVD through Arrow Films.

Friday, 25 January 2013

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office
for the weekend of January 18-20, 2013:

1 (1) Les Misérables (12A) *
2 (new) Django Unchained (18) **
3 (2) Life of Pi (PG) ***
4 (5) The Impossible (12A) ***
5 (3) Gangster Squad (15) ** 
6 (4) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) ***
7 (new) Monsters, Inc. 3D (U) ***
8 (7) Quartet (12A) ***
9 (8) Jack Reacher (12A) **
10 (10) Parental Guidance (PG) **

(source: UK Film Council)

My top five:
1. Chinatown
2. Lincoln
3. The Last Stand
4. What Richard Did
5. McCullin
 
      
Top Ten DVD rentals:

2 (new) Lawless (18) **
3 (new) The Five-Year Engagement (15) **
4 (2) Prometheus (15) *** 
5 (new) Dark Shadows (12) ***
6 (new) The Imposter (15) ****
7 (new) The Amazing Spider-Man (12) ***
8 (5) Men in Black 3 (12) **
9 (new) Dredd (18) ***
10 (new) New Year's Eve (12) *
 
(source: lovefilm.com)

My top five:
2. Looper
    

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Demolition Man [above] (Friday, ITV1, 10.35pm)
2. The Ice Storm (Wednesday, C4, 2.20am)
3. The Princess Bride (Sunday, five, 4.20pm)
4. Blithe Spirit (Thursday, C4, 12.45pm)
5. The Fighter (Sunday, C4, 9pm)

 

"The King of Pigs" (Metro 25/01/13)


The King of Pigs (uncertificated) 97 mins ***

This bracing Korean animation persists with a theme familiar from the country’s more extreme live-action exports: brutally angry men trying to work out what it was that made them mad in the first place. Two unhappy thirtysomethings meet for the first time since their schooldays, and start discussing the bullying they suffered at the hands of rich classmates. These bitter reminiscences cue an extended flashback that often resembles Napoleon Dynamite as redrawn by extremely alienated sociopaths: a never knowingly understated outpouring of high-school traumas that extends to cat murder, glue-huffing, multiple suicides and casual sexual humiliations. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho places his sympathies firmly with the victims, deploying deliberately jerky, scratchy animation to describe the brute, animalistic ugliness of the world his characters skulk through: it’s a vision of sorts, but one you’ll need a strong stomach to see out.

The King of Pigs opens in selected cinemas from today.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

1,001 Films: "The Defiant Ones" (1958)


The Defiant Ones is one of Stanley Kramer's liberal conscience pictures, released at a time when certain American cinemas would still have been segregated, but it's also a pointer for a new kind of manhunt movie, one governed less by noiry expressionism than by photorealism: the difference perceived between its blacks and whites were intended to reflect the harshest of realities. It's as an anti-racism statement - shackled at the wrist, escaped convicts Tony Curtis (Caucasian) and Sidney Poitier (African-American) learn they must work together if they're to remain a step ahead of their pursuers - that the film is now at its least interesting. Kramer is overly reliant on one of the huntsmen bringing his AM radio to the hunt in order to make a rather talky action movie jive and swing; he could also do with a leading white character who represents the worst excesses of redneck racism, rather than Curtis's U-rated punk, who lets slip a solitary "nigger" early on and thereafter appears more grumpy with than particularly threatened by his cohort. As a result, it becomes all too apparent which direction this relationship is heading in, which may not have been the case elsewhere in the uncertain Fifties.

To his credit, Kramer has skill enough to make the physicality of this pursuit involving. Curtis and Poitier presumably had to like one another off-screen, being chained together in these circumstances for so long, and the scenes that send them (and not, apparently, any stunt doubles) scrambling down a river now look like the cinema finding its midpoint between two visions of a no less divided America: Lillian Gish hopping the ice floes in Way Down East, and Burt Reynolds and chums' fateful canoe trip in Deliverance. A nocturnal raid on a lakeside community also proves exciting, even if it reveals one of Kramer's dramatic weaknesses: a faith that there would always be someone on hand, when push comes to shove, to do or say the right thing. The revelation remains Poitier's performance, which looks and sounds at least as "modern" as anything Brando or Monty Clift were doing at the time, only schooled in the idiom and experiences of the street, rather than an actors' studio; it's through him - and his honorably tuneless singing - that Kramer can carve out an ending that allows the character a moment of triumph without patronising either half of the filmmaker's audience. Still, it would be another 13 years before the movies got around to filming Shaft, a decade or so that would encompass the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; clearly, even if these defiant ones set the pace, there was some way yet to go.

The Defiant Ones is available on DVD through MGM Home Entertainment.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

1,001 Films: "Gigi" (1958)


Fifty years on from point of production - and a full century after the period in which it was set - certain allowances have to be made for Vincente Minnelli's musical Gigi. Take the opening sequence, in which Maurice Chevalier, as an ageing roué with a marked resemblance to Stuart Hall, trolls around the Bois de Boulogne, breaking into "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" as the youngest of a coterie of schoolgirls skips past him ("Those little eyes/So helpless and appealing..."). Chevalier, it turns out, is a bit player here - a lurker on the sidelines, sporadically charged with the responsibilities of a narrator - yet the main narrative thrust could scarcely be less dodgy. 

As Paris dons the fresh panties of the twentieth century, jaded sugar magnate Louis Jourdan has his appetites rekindled by little Leslie Caron, the little girl he delights in putting over his knee and spanking. It's hardly reassuring that Jourdan prefers his Gigi in school uniform, rather than the elegant laces and frills her guardians doll her up in, in the hope of landing her her sugar daddy; nor that, after standing her ground for a while, Gigi finally agrees to being railroaded into marriage with the first man of means she's introduced to. There's no question the film cherishes and celebrates a relationship that would be frowned upon in any other context; the Norman Rockwell wholesomeness of Meet Me in St. Louis suddenly seems an awful long way away. (It would be pushing matters to propose the film as a standard-bearer for the permissive society, but something of its anything-goes morality persists here.)

The movie's pleasures lie in Minnelli's presentation (Gigi lives in the reddest house ever filmed: an example of interior over-design even Almodóvar and the sisters in Cries and Whispers might have considered de trop) and in the Lerner/Loewe numbers. It helps that these were some of Lerner's best lyrics, but consider also the simplicity of Minnelli's staging for the duet "I Remember It Well" (two-shots framed against a back-projected sunset, allowing faces in the twilight of their years to convey the song's emotion and subtext more or less ideally) or for "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" (one camera - one take, almost - on Chevalier and a table of cheese and wine, those essential props of the bon viveur). The Rob Marshalls of this world - whose musicals forever appear too busy, perhaps to compensate for the weakness of their tunes - could learn a lot here. The remainder ranks on or about the same level as My Fair Lady: too questionable in its underlying sexual politics to qualify as a truly first-rate piece of work, yet a reliable source of entertainment (and cringing horror) whenever a bank holiday comes around.

Gigi is currently unavailable on DVD in the UK.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office
for the weekend of January 11-13, 2013:

1 (new) Les Misérables (12A) *
2 (3) Life of Pi (PG) ***
3 (new) Gangster Squad (15) ** 
4 (1) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) ***
5 (2) The Impossible (12A) ***
6 (new) Texas Chainsaw 3D (15)
7 (4) Quartet (12A) ***
8 (5) Jack Reacher (12A) **
9 (6) Pitch Perfect (12A) ***
10 (7) Parental Guidance (PG) **

(source: UK Film Council)

My top five:
1. Chinatown
2. What Richard Did
3. McCullin
4. Monsters, Inc. 3D
5. Everyday

      
Top Ten DVD rentals:
2 (new) Lawless (18) **
3 (new) The Five-Year Engagement (15) **
4 (2) Prometheus (15) *** 
5 (new) Dark Shadows (12) ***
6 (new) The Imposter (15) ****
7 (new) The Amazing Spider-Man (12) ***
8 (5) Men in Black 3 (12) **
9 (new) Dredd (18) ***
10 (new) New Year's Eve (12) *
 
(source: lovefilm.com)

My top five:
3. Dredd
5. Tabu
    

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. There Will Be Blood [above] (Sunday, BBC2, 11pm)
2. The Game (Saturday, ITV1, 11pm)
3. The Bourne Ultimatum (Sunday, ITV1, 10.15pm)
4. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Saturday, C4, 1.15am)
5. She's Out of My League (Friday, BBC1, 11.25pm)

 

Back in business: "Monsters, Inc. 3D"


Monsters, Inc. has been reissued in 3D this weekend, as part of Disney's ongoing project to shore up its stock value while it churns out Tinkerbell sequels, Brave and Cars 2, and by way of pre-emptive promotion for July's sequel Monsters University. Upon its release back in 2001, the original suffered from not having either of the words "Toy" or "Story" in its title: up against the first two entries in that series, any CG animation was likely to come up short, no matter that this one gave good toddler (which presumably explains its enduring popularity among very young viewers) and featured what remains Pixar's finest voice cast outside of the Toy Stories, Messrs. Crystal, Goodman, Buscemi and Tilly all bringing distinctive schtick into the studio. A decade or so on, it still looks to me like the beginning of something, rather than a high watermark for its makers: narratively, it's beholden to the "unlikely parenting" model tried and tested in the likes of Three Men and a Baby and TV's My Two Dads. (In the context, Sully is but a furrier Greg Evigan.) 

Pixar would refine this mode of storytelling over the next few years, first with Finding Nemo, then with The Incredibles, even more progressive texts on fatherhood and child-rearing; here, any resonant subtext tends to be obscured by business, of one form or another - more specifically, the colour and movement made possible by the then-new technology. (The climactic swing-dash-leap through a universe of bedroom doors is an obvious showcase for the 3D algorithms, updating This is Cinerama's rollercoaster ride for those not old enough to have seen it.) Still, it's almost anathema to be grumpy about these re-releases, especially one this sweet and funny, from a time when Pixar poured more love and effort into their end-credit outtakes than it now does into its features: what distinguishes Monsters, Inc. from (most of) what's come since is the heart that can be discerned beneath its relentless to-ing and fro-ing, and beating right up there in the centre of the screen in its near-perfect closing seconds.

Monsters, Inc. 3D is in cinemas nationwide.

The last waltz: "Ballroom Dancer"


The Russian dancer Slavik Kryklyvyy has long hair, wild eyes and snake hips: he's something of a whizz at the cha-cha and the tango, but you wouldn't trust him to buy a used car from, or want to leave him alone in a room with your girlfriend for any length of time, either. The Danish documentary Ballroom Dancer joins Kryklyvyy as he sought to make his comeback in 2010 at the age of 34, ten years after his breakthrough triumph at the World Ballroom Dancing Championships. He has a new partner, in his girlfriend Anna Melnikova; he has a new training regime, involving martial-arts, which is designed to get his body back to peak fitness. There is much talk of his "explosive speed".

We could be watching another triumph-over-adversity doc - a grown-up Mad Hot Ballroom, maybe - except for the ominous score, and a general sense that there's something not quite right about its subject: that Kryklyvyy is pumping and pushing himself too hard, and that dancing, the celebrity attached to it, and the shirtless self-assessment it entails, has become his life. Niggly arguments with Anna hardly alleviate our fears; neither does Kryklyvyy's reaction to a midtable showing at the European Championships. Where Anna is surrounded by female well-wishers, congratulating her on what she and her new partner have achieved in such a limited time, Slavik skulks away to be on his own, cultivating a chilling thousand-yard stare. Such a distancing look comes in handy as he watches his erstwhile partner Joanna Leunis going on to win the Euros, where he finds himself stuck with a woman who isn't happy with his technique, and is slowly falling out of step with him. What time the last dance will be called remains unclear - as is whether Anna will emerge from Slavik's arms in one piece.

We might question the film's need to spend quite so much time in the couple's bedroom, but then - as 2010's Armadillo suggested - Danish documentarists are clearly far less squeamish about deploying the constructs of reality television, and are only too happy to show their subjects miked up before the cameras. It's a bit too on-the-nose that the couple's rehearsal-studio attempt at reconciliation should play out to a recording of "Always On My Mind", and that Kryklyvyy should spend the final confrontation between the lovers down on his knees - an unnatural pose for anyone but a dancer.

Yet the tactic generates a level of intimacy with these bodies as they come together and drift apart - often, it seems, just by setting the camera up on a table and letting everybody forget that it's there in the course of the long hours of practice; it also happens to catch several felicities, like the giant row the couple have against the backdrop of a beginners' class wherein a young boy and girl are taking their first tentative steps across the floor. Ballroom Dancer might then be best described as a corrective to Mad Hot Ballroom: a film that suggests pairing up with the opposite sex isn't as simple as it might first appear. Just as last week's Jiro Dreams of Sushi did with raw fish, the new film approaches a very specific discipline and pulls from it a set of universal observations: I don't know whether you're looking for love this New Year, dear reader, but Ballroom Dancer is keen to caution you away from any man with no vowels in his surname who spends longer in the bathroom than you do.

Ballroom Dancer is in selected cinemas nationwide, ahead of its DVD release on February 11. Mad Hot Ballroom screens on Channel 4 this Tuesday night at 3.05am.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Looking and seeing: "McCullin"


After 2012's unofficial Year of the Documentary, 2013 begins brightly indeed with McCullin, David and Jacqui Morris's very fine profile of the Observer and Sunday Times photojournalist Don McCullin, witness to a half-century of global conflict. McCullin first came to prominence in the late 1950s with his studies of the teen gangs roaming the backstreets of his native North London, where a boy was supposed to stand up and fight for himself, not stand back and watch. Having survived this baptism of fire, he was duly dispatched by his editors to cover the building of the Berlin Wall, the war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, the Congo, Biafra, Vietnam... As McCullin himself reflects, "in the Sixties, there were so many opportunities to go off to war" - and thus to earn one's stripes, whether with a camera or a gun.

The photographer's testimony is laced with ambivalence about his chosen profession: while he's happy to have had such a long and prosperous career, he's now taken so many pictures of death and destruction he wonders whether he's guilty of exploiting the vulnerability of his subjects. (A piercing observation here: McCullin notes how, in the middle of the worst carnage, people look up as though addressing God - providing very easy pickings for any photographer looking to record the agony passing over their features.) Yet it's precisely this ambivalence - the fact he's questioning his own motives for being in this situation, taking these pictures - that suggests McCullin hasn't lost his grip on humanity, his ability to be shocked, even as news of yet another conflict filters through.

It's a serious business, photojournalism - focusing our attentions, telling a story with a single image, reframing the world - and the Morrises opt for a sober yet effective approach, asking McCullin to discuss his experiences in broadly chronological order while the rostrum camera hovers over those images he's brought back from various fronts. In doing so, the film gives a sense of a body of work being accumulated, even as it picks out individual highlights and sets us to considering their ramifications: take the devastating shot of a dead Vietnamese soldier lying in the long grass, next to the photo of his sweetheart McCullin retrieved from the soldier's spilled belongings in order to make a point. The physical presence of the photographer - wisened, greying, but still lucid, energised and possessed of a wry sense of humour - speaks to McCullin's hardiness and skilled decision-making: put bluntly, he's survived his assignments, where so many of his colleagues (and, indeed, of his subjects) have been picked off. (As a stark ST magazine headline frames it: "WHY THEM AND NOT ME?) 

Gradually, McCullin reveals itself as a story about the changing nature of journalism. The Sunday Times passes from the stewardship of Lord Thomson and editor Harold Evans (one of McCullin's most loyal admirers, interviewed here) to one Rupert Murdoch (more concerned with ad revenues than unvarnished global truths); photojournalists are tempted to shun risky freelance gigs in favour of being embedded with the troops, and effectively having all their decisions made for them by the authorities; the archive clips of McCullin's appearances on TV's Parkinson are themselves a reminder of a time when guests could be invited onto chatshows with nothing more to promote than a particular set of observations about the world. The Morrises leave McCullin in the snowy countryside, in a state of semi-retirement, but recent reports have him heading out to war again, this time in Syria: he's still snapping away, still questioning, still showing us where to look, if we care to.

McCullin is on release in selected cinemas.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

1,001 Films: "Man of the West" (1958)


Often cited as one of the key "dark" Westerns Anthony Mann made with established stars in the 1950s, Man of the West is the film that best explains Tony Soprano (and, indeed, the whole Sopranos screenwriting staff)'s fascination with the figure of Gary Cooper, refusing as it does to deal in the clear-cut or obvious, and keeping us on our toes throughout. Consider the opening: Cooper's Link Jones rides into a Texan town, stables his horse under one name, then buys a ticket on the next train out, eluding the attentions of the local sheriff on the platform by offering him an entirely different sobriquet. Right from the off, it's evident that this isn't the upright, honourable Coop of High Noon, but at best a liar, at worst a creep, and that this isn't going to be a traditional white hat/black hat Western (Cooper's is black, for the record), but a film in which identity is up for grabs and the characters will be at the mercy of fate: after his train is held up, Link stumbles with two fellow passengers into the hideout of that very gang he once rode with.

As a stand-off develops, our "hero" finds himself torn between vestigial loyalty to the mercenaries (a couple of whom are actual kin) and a desire to protect those he came in from the cold with. This makes for an unusual Western plot, with a heroine (chanteuse Julie London, interestingly tough) who's out of bounds - because Link's already married, or so he claims - and a protagonist who chooses to go along with, rather than after, the ne'er-do-wells, and has to stand by, where a Wayne or later Eastwood would stand and deliver. One shootout towards the end sees Link literally descend to his enemies' level, throwing himself in the dust to counter a snaky, underhand line of attack: there's just no high ground here. Plenty of high country, though, beautifully photographed by Ernest Haller in lush colour (on faded TV prints, you can still make out the contrast between London's red dress, the inky blacks of the hideout, and the green fields beyond it), even as Mann and screenwriter Reginald Rose arrive at some complex, intriguingly murky conclusions: that heroism isn't one thing, set in stone, so much as a changeable concept that has to move alongside the times. In this American West, the merest shred of decency could mark you out - and have you marked for life.

Man of the West is available on DVD through Optimum Home Entertainment.

Friday, 11 January 2013

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office
for the weekend of January 4-6, 2013:

1 (1) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) ***
2 (new) The Impossible (12A) ***
3 (2) Life of Pi (PG) ***
4 (new) Quartet (12A) ***
5 (3) Jack Reacher (12A) **
6 (4) Pitch Perfect (12A) ***
7 (5) Parental Guidance (PG) **
8 (6) Rise of the Guardians (PG) **
9 (7) Skyfall (12A) ****
10 (8) Tinkerbell and the Secret of the Wings (U) 

(source: Guardian.co.uk)

My top five:
1. Chinatown
2. What Richard Did
3. McCullin
4. Underground
5. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

    

Top Ten DVD rentals:
2 (7) Prometheus (15) *** 
3 (new) Brave (PG) **
4 (new) The Expendables 2 (15) ***
5 (new) Men in Black 3 (12) **
6 (new) Wrath of the Titans (12)
7 (new) Keith Lemon: The Film (15)
8 (new) Magic Mike (15) **
9 (3) Rock of Ages (12) ** 
10 (new) The Hunter (15) **

(source: lovefilm.com)

My top five:
4. Tabu
5. Jackpot
  

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Pan's Labyrinth [above] (Saturday, C4, 12.45am)
2. The Fugitive (Friday, ITV1, 2.55am)
3. Beverly Hills Cop (Sunday, C4, 11.15pm)
4. Passport to Pimlico (Wednesday, C4, 1pm)
5. The Constant Gardener (Sunday, ITV1, 10.15pm)

 

"What Richard Did" (Metro 11/01/13)


What Richard Did (15) 88 mins ****

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson here follows up cult gems Adam & Paul and Garage with something serious: a deft and atmospheric study of a teenager getting out of his depth. Born into boho privilege, Richard (Jack Reynor) is the natural leader of his provincial rugby-club gang: while the lads merely look up to this solid alpha, the girls fancy him rotten. A relationship with the pretty Lara (Roisin Murphy) seems promising, but the way he looks at her suggests something’s amiss; when violence breaks out at a party, Richard finds the burden of adult responsibility atop his broad scrumhalf’s shoulders.

Sensitively adapted by Malcolm Campbell from Kevin Power’s novel Bad Day in Blackrock, it’s the most conventional film Abrahamson has so far made, yet still markedly different from comparable teenpics. Absent is Kidulthood’s stabby sensationalism; instead, there’s a near-Scandinavian, Hamlet-like sense of brooding, underlined by this director’s ever-sharp eye for landscape, and the presence of Lars Mikkelsen (Mads’ brother, The Killing’s Troels Hartmann) as Richard’s da. A life is at stake here, and Abrahamson, Campbell and the charismatic Reynor give it compellingly authentic shape: you’ll likely know someone exactly like Richard.

What Richard Did opens in selected cinemas from today, and is also available via Curzon on Demand here.

"Midnight Son" (Metro 11/01/13)


Midnight Son (18) 88 mins ***

Scott Leberecht’s promising low-budget horror character study is very much in the vein – pun intended – of early George Romero. Jacob Grey (Zak Kilberg) has to live in a basement flat and work nights, because of a skin condition that leaves him allergic to sunlight. We join him at a moment when he’s getting desperate, stopping off after hours at the butchers to pick up cups of animal blood the way the rest of us might nip out for a latte.

What follows gets a little busy, with a sketchy subplot about human blood trafficking and a suspicious detective’s arrival threatening to detract from the affecting, well-played relationship our outsider hero strikes up with arty, coke-snorting admirer Mary (Maya Parish). Still, the street-level grit and grain, and its decidedly gloopy haemoglobin, congeal into a worthwhile corrective to the Twilight saga’s swooping, swoony anaemia.

Midnight Son opens in selected cinemas from today.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Best Films of 2012, 10-1


10. The Snows of Kilimanjaro

9. The Queen of Versailles

8. Ruby Sparks
The tenderest of correctives, like being told by the beautiful woman you're totally into exactly what it is you're doing wrong.

7. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

6. Faust

5. Himizu

4. The Master

3. Beauty

2. London: The Modern Babylon
No film thrilled me more last year. Or made me more proud to be where I got to, eventually.

1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [above]
A night to remember, generating 2012's most complete directorial vision: the ups and downs of the landscape, the jokes and regrets, encamped around that scene of candlefire.

Friday, 4 January 2013

For what it's worth...


Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office
for the weekend of December 28-30, 2012:

1 (1) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) ***
2 (new) Life of Pi (PG) ***
3 (new) Jack Reacher (12A) **
4 (new) Pitch Perfect (12A) ***
5 (new) Parental Guidance (PG) **
6 (2) Rise of the Guardians (PG) **
7 (4) Skyfall (12A) ****
8 (5) Tinkerbell and the Secret of the Wings (U) 
9 (3) Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! (U)
10 (6) Breaking Dawn: Part 2 (12A) **

(source: BFI)

My top five:
1. Chinatown
2. Hors Satan
3. Repulsion
4. The Impossible
5. Quartet
   

Top Ten DVD rentals:
2 (7) Prometheus (15) *** 
3 (new) Brave (PG) **
4 (new) The Expendables 2 (15) ***
5 (new) Men in Black 3 (12) **
6 (new) Wrath of the Titans (12)
7 (new) Keith Lemon: The Film (15)
8 (new) Magic Mike (15) **
9 (3) Rock of Ages (12) ** 
10 (new) The Hunter (15) **

(source: lovefilm.com)

My top five:
  

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Clueless [above] (Sunday, C4, 2.30pm)
2. Miracle on 34th Street (Wednesday, C4, 12.45pm)
3. Stand By Me (Sunday, five, 4.50pm)
4. The Dam Busters (Saturday, five, 3pm)
5. Cemetery Junction (Saturday, BBC2, 9.45pm)