Friday 29 November 2019

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office 
for the weekend of November 22-24, 2019:

1 (new) Frozen II (U) **

2 (1) Last Christmas (12A)
3 (new) Blue Story (15) ***
4 (2) Le Mans '66 (12A) ***
5 (new) 21 Bridges (15)
6 (3Joker (15) **
7 (6) The Good Liar (15)
8 (5) The Addams Family (PG)
9 (4) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG)
10 (new) Akhnaten - Met Opera (12A)

(source: BFI)

My top five: 
1. Eyes Wide Shut [above]

2. I Lost My Body
3. The Amber Light
4. Knives Out
5. The Nightingale

Home entertainment Top Ten (DVD/Blu-Ray/Download): 

1 (2) 
The Lion King (PG)
2 (1) Spider-Man: Far from Home (12) ***
3 (new) Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (12) **
4 (3Toy Story 4 (U) ***
5 (5) Aladdin (PG)
6 (4Yesterday (12) **
7 (6Rocketman (15) ***
8 (12) Frozen (PG) **
9 (7) Avengers: Endgame (12) **
10 (35) Annabelle Comes Home (15)


My top five: 
1. Apollo 11

2. Photograph
3. Transit
4. The Chambermaid
5. Blinded by the Light

Firefighting: "Frozen II"

Call me cold-hearted if you choose, but you're listening to one of the five or six earthlings left entirely unfussed and untouched by the animated juggernaut that was 2013's Frozen. That movie looked to these eyes like one of New Disney's altogether calculated works in progress, hustled into multiplexes on its way to becoming a Broadway extravaganza (Frozen on Ice?) for which the company could charge harassed parents upwards of $50 a ticket to sit through "Let It Go" again. (I mean, where was the comparable love for 2016's Moana, which was properly coloured-in and everything?) That development may yet be ahead of us, but in the meantime, we have the inevitable sequel, greenlit once the original hit a certain number in combined ticket and merch sales. Frozen II has to try and get over the ending of its predecessor (loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen), where the kingdom inhabited by Elsa, Anna, Olaf et al. was comprehensively unfrozen - a fundamental gamechanger acknowledged here in the reassuring title of an early song ("Some Things Never Change") and a scene that finds our heroines and heroes enjoying a non-urgent game of charades. What follows is an exercise in watching a corporation with near-unlimited resources fix the problems that derive from starting from scratch within a storyverse that was embraced like that of no other Disney film this century; I can't honestly say I was enchanted or entertained, but I was semi-diverted by the effort.

First things first: it looks gorgeous. No expense whatsoever has been spared on making the visuals eye-catching and dynamic; even gawping at it from the back row of the Odeon, you stand no risk of mistaking Frozen II for those unhappy-making sequels Old Disney churned out for the straight-to-DVD market either side of the millennium. The animators' pencils and mousemats have picked up the slack, big time. Trouble is, there's been an unusual amount of slack for this sequel to pick up. The story - credited to five writers (including returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee) working in two separate teams - never feels like anything other than a frantic scrabbling around for inspiration: it opens with a tale Elsa and Anna were told before the events of the first movie, which sets up some airy-watery business with an enchanted forest, which might just have something to do with climate change ("when nature speaks, we listen"), because that's a very zeitgeisty peg on which to hang a children's movie in 2019, and - hey - Bambi was credited in some quarters with kickstarting the green movement of the 1960s and 70s, don't you know. Noble as these intentions may be, on screen they play out back-to-front and otherwise all over the place: the ambulant snowman Olaf's recap of the first film's events (useful, if you don't have kids and therefore only saw Frozen once) comes around the 45-minute mark, and that forestry business merely serves as cover for some light retconning of the Frozen canon.

Drippy dirges though they were - proto-showtunes only a generation raised on Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding records could possibly tolerate - Frozen's songs achieved some wishy-washy sort of parity with the storytelling: for better or worse, they were an integral part of what the original was. ("Let It Go" went to character and plot direction, as well as being a saphead's idea of a showstopper.) Here, the songs seemed to me to be leading the storytelling, yanking the characters from A to B and whistling over any disconnects, as if the composers got bored waiting for the endless script meetings to finish up, and pressed on regardless. If the songs were better, they might have got away with it. Yet "Into the Unknown", widely touted as the new "Let It Go", is - like so much contemporary pop - a big, uplifting chorus (choice earworm: the whale cry that backs up our heroine) in search of anything like a memorable verse or lyric. As for "Lost in the Woods", the sub-Glenn Medeiros number handed to the terminally bland Kristoff to wail through, well, it's a good excuse for a toilet break. Still: "Into the Unknown", "Lost in the Woods"... Frozen II makes a show of its searching and insecurities, in a way that makes it slightly more interesting than a lot of committee-derived digimation; it's a Disney movie where the methodology, muddled as it is, sits intriguingly close to the surface. (Call it skating on thin ice.) Olaf's existential crisis - why am I here? What am I doing? - is quite funny in the way some of the Frozen shorts have been funny, but it's also the film's own existential crisis; and though a passing troll's advice - "When you cannot see a future, all one can do is take the next right step" - means to comment on the climate (meteorological and sociopolitical), it's also apparently the maxim of the producers working around the clock in the hope of pulling another billion-dollar megahit out of thin air. There have been worse ways of making a movie, but it's still no corrective for an overriding absence of creative vision.

Frozen II is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Man-marked: "Permission"

At the centre of the Iranian drama Permission sit various unyielding varieties of rules and regulations, a morass of red tape that has to be ducked under and danced around, lest it stop a person from moving altogether. As the captain of Iran's national futsal team, our heroine Afrooz (Baran Kosari) is well aware of the offside law, naturally; yet as a female subject of an Islamic republic, she also has to go through the unnatural rigmarole of covering her hair and wrist tattoo - the first inkling of a rebellious side - every time she enters the playing arena. As on the pitch, so in life: what the writer-director Soheil Beiraghi is interested in here is the space Afrooz has to move around in during her day-to-day activity. It's not much, all told, and we increasingly sense the freedom she enjoys as a charging midfield dynamo being infringed upon and shut down elsewhere. Arriving at the international departures desk ahead of the Asian Games finals, Afrooz finds the airline staff turning her away; her husband Yaser (Amir Jadidi) has forbidden her from leaving the country, as husbands still have the right to do in this part of the world. No joke; some yoke.

The film is based on actual events, yet there's a sizeable hole in the plot as it unfolds here: surely this impasse would have come up in conversation long before Afrooz hit the airport for such a big event? (It doesn't seem like the captain's first away game.) Beiraghi works up an immediacy that helps to usher us around it; Permission is the first of what I suspect will be many movies influenced by Asghar Farhadi's modern classic A Separation. As Afrooz tears off to confront her oppressor with the aim of resolving the issue, it becomes apparent how estranged she is from her other half, an explanation that papers over rather than fills that plot hole; it also becomes apparent that Beiraghi is less nuanced in his approach than Farhadi, whose viewpoint tends to emerge organically from the material. Beiraghi, for his part, is attempting to illustrate a thesis: you see that from the characterisation of Yaser, introduced mouthing platitudes in his role as a daytime TV host, later seen getting Afrooz to beg for some release ("You're mine!"), tearing up the legal agreement they come to seconds after leaving the lawyers' office, and having her evicted from her flat. I don't doubt there are men out there who get this drunk on their own power, but while sketching the basics of the couple's marriage, Permission can seem a touch rigid in its own thinking: she's good ("a national heroine", as her lawyer represents her at one point), he's bad - no, really bad; no, even worse than that - and an obstacle she has to get round to get wherever she's going. Check the VAR, and he's heading for a straight red.

That the film holds us nevertheless is in part down to committed performances. Kosari's crumpled fortitude - that of a striker who keeps running into a barrel-chested centre half, picking herself up and brushing herself down - is both touching and instructive, and Jadidi makes Yaser a proper, glowering wrong 'un: Beiraghi shows him being primped for the cameras, smirking his way through legal proceedings, and carrying on as usual even as his wife is reduced to living in her car, the sole form of mobility left open to her. This is recognisably a #MeToo-era movie, both in its suggestion that the gap between a male celebrity's media image and their off-camera behaviour is one space a wronged woman might usefully work within, and in its recognition that this might not in itself be enough to effectuate positive, lasting change. Yaser briefly becomes "the most hated man on Instagram", a handle Jadidi wears almost too well - no performer is currently in greater need of a Mr. Right role in a light romcom - but the film remains clear-eyed about the limitations of a hashtag. More revealing yet is how this one stand-off opens up a series of faultlines: between the captain and her manager, who has her own archaic ideas of how a woman should conduct herself, and between the captain and her national association, who'd rather speak to the husband than the wife. Contrived as it sometimes seems, this situation succeeds in exposing the conservatism prevalent in wider Iranian society, and Beiraghi even ticks off a few things Farhadi hasn't got round to: it's certainly the first Iranian film I've seen to feature a car chase, which proves as jolting and exhilarating in this context as the scooter chase in the Dardennes' The Child. A dramatic shortcut, perhaps, but there's something to be said for filmmakers revving up their realism.

Permission is now showing in selected cinemas, and streaming via Curzon and the BFI.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Ageing bull: "The Irishman"

The recent row between Martin Scorsese and the overseers and flamekeepers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was only ever a question of experience. On one side, the film artist, raised in the post-War golden age of international cinema, taking up arms in defence of the movies as a forum for messy, complex life. On the other, the neophyte representatives of a generation of businessman-creatives, taking time out from building theme parks to justify fostering such escapism at a time when the real world allows precious few triumphs for good over evil. (This, of course, has nothing to do with the power wielded by corporations as all-powerful as Marvel and Disney.) The Irishman, which has just landed on Netflix after the most cursory and well-hidden of theatrical runs (backstreet cinemas, no box-office reporting), is recognisably a film of experience: funny, bloody, bitter, melancholy, to its closing moments tossing out lessons in such matters as the proper transportation of seafood, and the correct way to dispose of a union boss. It's also very much about the mixed blessings that come with age. Much of the pre-publicity centred on the fact those involved may have had too much experience: hence Scorsese rejuvenating his lead actors via the wrinkle-kicking process known as digital de-aging. A few close-ups of those tweaked features allow the mind's-eye to wander into the foothills of uncanny valley, but in the main the technique is applied with such assurance - and the underlying storytelling so strong - that one need not worry unduly about it; it's the inverse of the effects in the MCU, which cry out to be noticed because there's so little else of substance to grab onto.

There is, all told, a lot to grapple with in The Irishman. The film runs some three-and-a-half hours, and spans roughly sixty years in the life of its title character Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), touching upon his salad days executing German prisoners in World War II, his heyday as a hitman for Pennsylvania's Bufalino clan, and his final days in a retirement home as a rare survivor of the protection racket. To a degree, it's an extension of GoodFellas - made by a filmmaker thirty years older and wiser - in that its protagonist goes some distance beyond the mook we left Henry Hill to be, and becomes a skeleton, a wraith; the sense of a man exiled beyond human reach is established by the opening travelling shot, which has to wind a long way through the corridors and rec rooms of the retirement community to find the withered Sheeran. The rise to power he narrates, conversely, is full of colour, vigour, not to mention character. Part of the considerable pleasure of watching The Irishman comes from a sense Scorsese has used a hefty wodge of Netflix moolah (reported budget: $159m) to get the old gang back together: so here's Joe Pesci as the tortoise-like capo Russell Bufalino, Harvey Keitel as his associate Angelo Bruno, and Boardwalk Empire regulars Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham and Jack Huston (as a cuck Robert Kennedy), plus an authentic wildcard, new to the Scorsese universe, in Al Pacino, playing Jimmy Hoffa - whom Sheeran eventually wound up serving as bodyguard - as a sucrose-fuelled ranting loon the Mob probably had to whack just to get any peace and quiet. Steven Zaillian's script presents Sheeran's interactions with these wiseguys in a rambunctious, episodic style: the whole film's somewhat like chancing upon the juiciest chunks of a biography, brought to life by extraordinary performers. Yet it's also a film of violent contrasts, finessed by the surest of hands: the conviviality of the Mob business versus the solitary shut-off in the care home, regaling the camera because he has nobody else to talk to; the bringer of death, now slumped in a wheelchair, waiting for his own. As one of Bufalino's toasts puts it: "Things change".

For his part, the now 77-year-old Scorsese is busy demonstrating there's life in his cinema yet: The Irishman arguably surpasses 2016's slightly overlooked Silence as his greatest dramatic achievement of the decade. This material allows him entirely new reads on the mobster milieu. The WW2 flashback, along with Hoffa's dismissal of his enemies as "Nazi collaborators", and Sheeran's tendency to mutely follow Bufalino and Hoffa's orders - eventually putting himself in a terrible bind - confirms that these men were still fighting the war in their own heads. (Sheeran's sometimes rambling narration - very different from the fast, snappy Hill's in GoodFellas - is but the telling of war stories, a means of talking up his own misdeeds and around a reckless disregard for human life drilled into him on the battlefields of Sicily.) We've seen a lot of old-world movies this awards season - Once Upon a Time... in HollywoodLe Mans '66 - perhaps as even the cloistered dingbats who now run our movie studios have realised the times are a-changing. The Irishman is the first, however, to undercut its nostalgia with critical notes, to suggest there are elements within these otherwise alluring retreats we've done well to leave behind. Look at the women, Scorsese suggests, packed off to the kitchen and the beauty salon, forced to adhere to their own code of silence - though the camera picks up exactly what such silences can communicate. There's a superb scene at a bowling alley where Sheeran's youngest daughter Peggy (Lucy Gallina) is called over by Bufalino, and picks up a strong whiff that her daddy's boss might be toxic. It's mirrored by a moment in the second half where the now-adult Peggy (Anna Paquin) comes home to find her father watching a news bulletin that confirms all her worst suspicions: that her dad is death. In both cases, barely a word is exchanged: you'll just have to chalk their effects up to female intuition, and never again bring up that hogwash about Scorsese not knowing what to do with women. (See also: the late phone call Frank makes to Hoffa's widow, another moment of De Niro excellence, and the closest we get to seeing the protagonist falling apart.)

Scorsese has come to study gangsters as David Attenborough has dinosaurs - he's both fascinated and terrified by their power - but then the whole movie's full of things on the verge of extinction: doo-wop, formal dress codes, hot dogs soaked in beer, the power of the unions. It's clear the director has been thinking long and hard about mortality, in a way he wasn't quite circa GoodFellas: he looks on Sheeran in the care home, and something in that gaze says there but for the grace of God (or cinema, which may be the same thing in this most religiose of filmographies) go I. Even as it averts its eyes during one hit, the camera alights upon a funeral wreath; there are cutaways to sudden, fiery demises that resemble deathly riffs on the sidejokes in Family Guy (one of several alternative titles that presents itself); and every so often the action pauses to plant a headstone credit over a minor character, informing us where and how they met their maker. (The most poignant of these is a brief shot of the withered Joe Kennedy, sat on a porch watching the sun go down.) A raucous bit with an insult comic roasting Sheeran at a charity event takes on a melancholy hue when the comedian is revealed to be the young Don Rickles (d. April 6, 2017), a.k.a. Billy Sherbert in Scorsese's Casino; it's not the only point in the picture where Scorsese, like Sheeran, is caught reflecting on living long enough to see your friends and contemporaries die, which a mindset as Catholic as his can't fail to see as some form of punishment. There's no way out of this world, save death: when we finally take our leave from The Irishman, three-and-a-half hours closer to that grave, it's through a crack in a door left ajar in part out of deference to Jimmy Hoffa's sleeping ritual, and in part to let the Reaper in. (Frank Sheeran died of cancer in December 2003.)

Perhaps that risks making the film sound gruelling or grim; granted, it's not as mindlessly enjoyable as an Ant-Man movie, but otherwise nothing could be further from the truth. An essential part of the Irishman experience is that conviviality: the kind of togetherness that comes from being among real people (rather than action figures), that allows us to forget about our impending doom temporarily, that must come easily on sets where an experienced director has been handed creative carte blanche to work with his favourite actors. (It's the right amount of the indulgence that has crept into Netflix's other original programming; it's the good stuff.) The Irishman may be the first Mob movie to seriously explore organised crime as a source of friendship and brotherhood, as it surely has been for some of its sociopaths: a Rotary Club with an elevated bodycount. Much has already been written about the touching sight of Pacino and De Niro bedding down for the night in their pyjamas, a logical progression of these actors' long-winded courtship in Heat; I wasn't quite expecting the scene in which Pesci bequeaths De Niro a gold pinky ring like a nine-year-old girl on the playground. Scorsese and Zaillian's genius here, however, is to never lose sight of how such alliances were tenuous, and absolutely dependent on each man knowing their allotted place in the social order. They had each other's backs, and did the most heinous things for one another, out of a fear they too might end up as isolated and powerless, as thoroughly enfeebled as the Frank Sheeran we're first introduced to in that nursing home - but gravity, the flesh, and the ever more rapid passage of time ensure no man can control this world for too long. We may see more specific critiques of capitalism, and where it left its footsoldiers, in the years ahead; we may not see anything that so clearly resembles a decisive last word on American gangsterism, and the gangster genre. Either way, no three-hour film released in 2019 has done more to earn an alternative, one-word title: Endgame.

The Irishman is showing in selected cinemas, and now streaming on Netflix. 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Union man: "Meeting Gorbachev"

Meeting Gorbachev must be the first Werner Herzog documentary of recent times to land on our screens with next to no buzz whatsoever. (To some degree, it's already been overwritten by Herzog's subsequent Family Romance, LLC., currently doing the festival rounds.) There are a couple of reasons for this. First, as a filmmaker, Herzog has typically been drawn towards extremes: think of the ski-jumping hero of 1974's The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, or the doomed Timothy Treadwell, sticking his head into bears' mouths in 2005's Grizzly Man, or indeed those pathfinders the filmmaker interviewed in the Antarctic for 2007's Encounters at the End of the World. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, eighth and final president of the Soviet Union, is by any definition a moderate: calm, unflustered, happily married for 45 years, someone trusted by millions to keep a steady hand on the tiller. The director has had to come in from the fringes to meet his subject, hence the prologue that sees Herzog present the now 87-year-old Gorbachev - bald as he ever was, though a touch bloated by diabetes - with boxes of sugar-free chocolates by way of a gift. Second, Herzog appears delighted just to be sitting in the same room as his interviewee: there isn't a cutaway where he's not seen beaming, and in a three-minute stretch towards the end, we hear this famously uncompromising cineaste apologise for a nasty remark Helmut Kohl sent the Soviet leader's way before unreservedly declaring his love for Gorbachev. From the very first question, Herzog is aware of the historical significance of this occasion: a German and a Russian sitting down in peacetime for what will likely be the last major interview the statesman of the pair will give. The question we onlookers have to wrestle with is this: does a happy Herzog make for heartening cinema?

For a while, the approach does feel overly conventional, reverential even. Meeting Gorbachev has as its basis three interviews undertaken in 2017-18, the results of which have been interwoven with drone shots mapping the landscape from which Gorbachev emerged, and rare archive footage describing his rise to prominence. (This latter is the kind of photographic and video material a filmmaker only gets access to after negotiations with a powerful subject's self-named foundation.) Interesting as it is to see the handsome figure Gorbachev cut in his university days, and the message he self-taped to refute the claims of those leading the 1991 coup d'état against him (presented here with authenticating tracking issues), I suspect students of Soviet history and politics are going to want a more rigorous line of questioning than the fanboying filmmaker pursues - something more on Afghanistan, say, or Reagan, or Putin (seen in spectral passing among the mourners at Raisa Gorbachev's funeral). It's an instructive story, nevertheless: how a farmer's son, raised with no particular privilege on his side, took an express elevator through the ranks of the Communist Party, and by virtue of an internationalist outlook (verified here by those political players he met along the way) helped to secure peace at a time when it seemed East and West were beyond reconciliation. While squeezing fifty years of especially seismic world events into ninety minutes, Herzog finds his own pockets of fascination. He turns the one-two-three demise of Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko at the start of the 1980s into both funereal black comedy and an illustration of the collapsing order Gorbachev defined himself against; Chernobyl, likewise, serves as an example of the old ways of running things - the structural incompetence, the mishandling of a grave nuclear threat. Yet Herzog also posits that the theatre of politics exists on the same city block as the theatre of the absurd: he wryly inserts a clip of Hungarian news giving less prominence to the cutting down of the Iron Curtain than it does an outbreak of slugs.

As Meeting Gorbachev goes on, its subject himself begins to seem like a relic of another time, seen pottering around old haunts in flickering video footage and quoting a Lermontov poem that reads unnervingly like an epitaph. So the film becomes a legacy document, and you start to twig what it's getting at from a clip Herzog finds of Margaret Thatcher talking about her working relationship with the Communist leader, observing "He believes in his system, as I do in mine... we're unlikely to change one another"; nevertheless, she concedes, "we can do business together". What the archive footage shows us is the - to 2019 eyes, weirdly jolting - sight of politicians not just respecting but admiring, even charming one another: the convivial coverage Herzog digs up to illustrate Reagan and Gorbachev's meeting at the 1986 disarmament talks in Reykjavik presents as the inverse of all those photos of world leaders giving their contemporaries the cold shoulder or stink eye at the latest G8 summit. Reflecting on many of those leaders' stated aim to beef up their nuclear arsenals in the years ahead, Horst Teltschik, a former adviser to Helmut Kohl, laments the return of "eye for an eye" policymaking, a comment that provides a stark contrast with Gorbachev's final summation of the Cold War: "It was our joint victory. We all won." So, no, this isn't one of Herzog's more extreme or out-there undertakings, but Gorbachev looks to have won his interrogator over towards a recognition that now is not the time for further extremes; that it is, instead, a moment for sober, sensible reflection, the kind of mulling over that permits mature societies to learn from their mistakes. That's the thing about backroom diplomacy, as both subject and filmmaker have come to understand: you don't have to make a big song-and-dance about it, and more often than not it succeeds in moving us all onto a happier, healthier state of being.

Meeting Gorbachev is now playing in selected cinemas, and streaming via Curzon and the BFI Player.  

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Spoiler merchants: "Driven"

In the UK, Driven was sent out as a spoiler for the more prestigious Le Mans '66, with which it shares an interest in cars as the great American plaything. Yet it soon becomes clear that the Irish writer-director team of Nick Hamm and Colin Bateman are taking a far faster and looser approach to their material than James Mangold did. This here's one of those American Hustle/American Made-style riffs on true-crime events from the terminally uncool fag-end of the 1970s, so it's not long before the screen falls subject to hairpieces, cocaine, wide lapels, minor disco hits and self-consciously tacky production design. Its centrepiece is the DMC 12, that winged automotive creation that was dead as a dodo by the time Doc Brown revived it for time-travel purposes in 1985's Back to the Future; in an early scene, we see its distinctive chassis being sketched by John DeLorean himself, played by Lee Pace beneath a grey cloud of hair that, together with the actor's never more fulsome eyebrows, suggests the young Sam Waterston has appointed himself head of some Californian religious cult. That the film isn't your straightforward hymn to industry is evident from the fact our protagonist isn't DeLorean, but Jim Hoffman (Jason Sudeikis), a wheedling hustler turned FBI snitch, who became so distracted by his neighbour DeLorean's regal lifestyle that he forgot to do what his exasperated handler (Corey Stoll) wanted him to do, and got everybody in more trouble yet. The Le Mans movie has been thrilling audiences with the sight of men working together in the pursuit of the happiness that follows from travelling at frictionless high speed; Driven, by contrast, is a car crash waiting to happen.

Hamm and Bateman have given it a fairly conventional structure: the film opens with Hoffman being briefed for an appearance on the witness stand that provides the cue for regular flashbacks. Yet for those of us who weren't aware of this story, other elements prove far less predictable. For one thing, we're unsure whose trial this is for at least half the running time, those flashbacks show up Hoffman's testimony as between 75-80% hooey, and our protagonist's erratic behaviour means we have little clue which direction any sequence is headed in. What drives Driven is Jim's slavering envy of his neighbour's swimming pool and gorgeous wife (Isabel Arriaza), yet even his green-to-the-gills jealousy has nothing on that of Hoffman's drug-dealing associate Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz) and his squeeze Katy (Erin Moriarty, offering a neat Amy Adams impersonation in dispatches). You could well imagine a darker retelling of this cautionary anecdote, one which left blood on someone's bodywork; it's just that Reagan-era period movies with an accessibly knowing tone have made a fair bit of money in recent times, and so we find ourselves watching what often resembles yet another West Hollywood fancy dress party. Hamm can't quite match that mad scientist David O. Russell for mid-scene crackle and pop, but he fosters an antsy status anxiety that feels oddly contemporary: he gives us characters desperate to grab that big brass ring, no matter who or what they take down in the process.

He's helped considerably by an ensemble operating on or about the same lowish level of celebrity: this is one of those instances where not having an out-and-out star attached has presumably dented a movie's commercial chances (Driven has all but disappeared from cinemas a fortnight after its release), but actually works better for the film itself, shifting our sympathies around from scene to scene. Though he has a nicely ironic moment as he, too, blunders into an FBI sting ("John DeLorean always leads from the front"), Pace's JDL registers as a wispy enigma - tanned yet oddly colourless - as our millionaires and billionaires tend to be; Hamm and Bateman rightly sense the real action is to be found around the pathetically grounded Hoffman. Sudeikis, whose name should appear on any list of the decade's most improved performers, demonstrates a real gift for amusing weaselry: clock the rehearsed look of dumbness he forces as someone points out that Jim's associate is a drug dealer, or the shit-eating grin that spreads across his face as he realises he's usurped the company #2 in DeLorean's affections. Hoffman is a liability of a protagonist; Sudeikis's skill is to betray just enough of this snitch's very human weakness - his need to be admired, to belong - to render him oddly likeable. The coda leaves him where he probably deserves, all told, yet what precedes it is the kind of movie American cinema isn't meant to be making right now: non-PG-13, with no superheroes or name creatives, and only a light smattering of recognisable faces, playing characters who wouldn't immediately pass a relatability test. It's expressing gratitude for scraps, perhaps - hey, welcome to film criticism in 2019 - but just encountering Driven on the release slate is encouraging; that it should prove more than halfway watchable is all bonus.

Driven is now playing in selected cinemas.

Monday 25 November 2019

Continental drift: "Atlantics"

The opening images of the already much-admired Atlantics form something like a primer in how best to interpret its often inscrutable text: as a series of intersections. Mati Diop's film opens on the dryest of dry land - the deserts of Dakar - among vast spaceship-like buildings, signifiers of that aggressive new capitalism that seeks to stamp its authority and sear its brandnames onto an earth that's shifting like the sands. Our points of entry into this strikingly unfamiliar universe are those lowly local construction workers first seen downing tools in protest at unpaid wages. This is the future, then, but it's also now; from the off, we're watching an odd mix of social realism and science fiction. The number of non-Caucasian faces on screen also ensures we read Atlantics as unmistakably a film out of Africa, repositioned for just short of two hours as the centre of the universe. After that scene-setting prologue, Diop turns her attention to a coastal love triangle: Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is torn between Omar (Babacar Sylla), the flash bar owner to whom she's been promised, and Souleiman (Traore), the construction worker to whom she's given her heart. Everybody's at a crossroads, in other words, a situation mirrored by Atlantics' own status. Though Diop's film bobs onto UK screens this weekend, a deal struck at Cannes this summer means the place it's most likely to be seen, as was the case with last year's noteworthy Ghanaian title The Burial of Kojo, is on Netflix. Brave new world indeed.

Once you've taken the time to process that info, curious things start happening. Souleiman is very quickly beamed up or spirited away - on a boat lost in stormy waters en route to Spain, and the prospect of a better life. Ada and Omar's subsequent wedding ceremony - with the bride smuggled into the ceremony beneath a blanket to one of composer Fatima al Qadiri's extraordinary electronic washes - proves as unearthly as anything in the picture. And the merest mention of Souleiman on the wedding night causes the marital bed to catch fire, and not in a good way. If Atlantics had been drawn up along conventional lines, we could describe it as a love story with a beautiful young princess caught between two markedly different suitors, intertwined with a police procedural in which a dogged detective aims to identify who it was who lit the fire. Yet it plainly hasn't been drawn up along conventional lines, and Diop does just about all a director can to make even her tale's more recognisable elements appear unfamiliar. The detective is carrying some kind of sickness that goes beyond a generic weariness of the soul; and the construction workers' wives and girlfriends are seen assuming a zombified state before marching en masse to the the contractor's palatial residence - a sequence that plays stranger still for butting up against a humdrum gynaecological examination. What kind of movie even is this?

There may be no clear or complete answer to that question, but I'll venture that Atlantics is at least a semi-compelling one. Much of the fascination resides in Diop's shotmaking, which owes certain debts, whether to Claire Denis (in whose films Diop has acted), African ghost stories or those nightmares Val Lewton produced for RKO, but otherwise seems content to float off and do entirely its own thing. There's a precision about Diop's craft, honed across several shorts and medium-length features, which may just hook you even as the film's narrative line drifts off towards some far horizon. Working within a reduced frame that possibly mirrors the characters' limited circumstances, the director is attentive indeed as to the people and places she hauls into view; the steady, unforced rhythm of Aël Dallier Vega's cutting - like waves lapping at the feet of a beach - allows us time to appreciate the uncanny beauty of the images Diop composes with cinematographer Claire Mathon (who shot 2013's Stranger by the Lake), whether the camera is dwelling quizzically on the half-built towers looming over Ada's hometown, or returning, as it does time and again, to the unsolved mystery of the sea, carrying with it the enigma of just where Souleiman has disappeared to. We are, for some time, immersed; we go with the flow. Around the midpoint, however, a question popped into my head: is that enough?

Between the brine that surrounds and sustains this story, and the sweat that forms on its characters' foreheads, Atlantics struck me as the kind of film liable to be overpraised as a fever dream, alternating as it does between passages of lucidity that fair burn up the screen and restless murmuring of the type that leads to furrowed brows. The film is at least 85% water, and some of that is of a debatable clarity: I'm not at all sure Diop nails down her central metaphor (why zombies?) in the way Lewton did at far shorter length, and there are places where the film sails beyond the irrational into entirely unfathomable territory. I'd have happily lost one or two of the cutaways to the mute ocean if it meant something more could be communicated. Equally, though, I wouldn't want to compromise the film's vivid sense of a place by the shore that may as well be the very edge of the world, or indeed of an emergent writer-director pushing at the boundaries of what the cinema can do - encouraging us to strike out beyond our usual comfort zones, even if, as that Netflix deal permits, we can now do so from the comfort of our own living rooms. It's a quiet indictment of the prevailing whiteness of that cinema that, in 2019, a trip to Africa might still resemble a safari on another planet, but here we all are, circling the rocks in the same damn ship of fools.

Atlantics opens in selected cinemas, and will be available to stream on Netflix, from Friday.

Sunday 24 November 2019

From the archive: "Paths of Glory"

That Paths of Glory, arguably Stanley Kubrick’s first masterwork, is being reissued to mark the centenary of the Great War could be considered something of an irrelevance. The events described by the film are in fact dated to 1916, while its conflicts go some distance beyond the specific: it opened in 1958, a moment when the world was being divided up once again, with American footsoldiers being shipped off by the officer classes to carry out their dirty work on the battlefields of Asia.

If it isn’t yet as openly snarky as the Vietnam-era likes of The Dirty Dozen or M*A*S*H, Paths nevertheless draws deep from the wellspring of frustration and anger that sustained the Aldrich and Fuller war movies of its period – and its eye for the absurdities of modern warfare is clearly that of the director who would within a few years go on to make Dr. Strangelove as the Cold War took its icy grip.

Ripped from a Humphrey Cobb novel by the unsparing triumvirate of Kubrick, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson, the film charts the build-up to and fallout from a doomed mission in which a French battalion is sent to capture a German-occupied hill. While the generals haunt palaces some distance behind the frontline, sipping cognac and mouthing platitudes, the men – led by Kirk Douglas’s erstwhile lawyer Dax – are sent over the top to die for the greater good, a vague concept that becomes more debatable yet when the desired result doesn’t manifest, and three troops end up being court-martialled.

That this scenario was meant as non-specific is evident from the circumstances of its production. Filmed behind enemy lines in Munich with a mostly American cast playing French, Paths of Glory nevertheless showcases Kubrick’s ability to knit together coherent universes as well as, say, the director’s transformation of Beckton gas works into Hanoi in Full Metal Jacket three decades later.

Kubrick’s trenches, presumably born of a thousand photographs of what WWI trenches actually looked like, boast a muddy scale and veracity; the central battle charge similarly has a scope hitherto unseen in this filmography, and suggests what tempted the director to try and rescue Spartacus – again with Douglas – a couple of years later.

Another look reveals a few wobbles among the supporting cast. As one of those overseeing the mission, George Macready’s hyperventilating, declamatory style now looks and sounds very much Old Hollywood, where Kubrick and Douglas were working towards something new. Somewhere in here, though, there’s also the sly insinuation the actor might be a perfect representative of the kind of bluff fools idealistic young soldiers and filmmakers alike were coming up against.

If Kubrick wasn’t in total control at this stage, the film is somehow more human for that. Once the bombardment dies down, the courtroom scenes allow everyone to stand their ground and speak their piece: the officers determined to send three randomly selected men to their deaths one way or another, while Douglas’s lived-in Dax – like his director, seeing a bigger picture here – strives to put the whole war machine on trial.

Doing so ensures it isn’t just the closing scenes – a succession of gut punches – that make Paths of Glory one of the cinema’s most forceful and lasting anti-war statements. It’s the film’s ability to dramatise at each turn those issues and objections – that our troops have gone unsupported by their commanders, been abandoned to their own devices, or simply that we’ve asked too much of them – that have been raised time and again as our armies have marched from Ypres to My Lai to Fallujah. Some paths. Some glory.

(MovieMail, May 2014)

Paths of Glory screens on BBC2 tonight at 12.45am.

Friday 22 November 2019

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office 
for the weekend of November 15-17, 2019:

1 (new) Last Christmas (12A)

2 (new) Le Mans '66 (12A) ***
3 (1) Joker (15) **
4 (3) Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG)
5 (4) The Addams Family (PG)
6 (5) The Good Liar (15)
7 (11) Abominable (U)
8 (6) Midway (12A)
9 (10) A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (U) ****
10 (8) Terminator: Dark Fate (15) **

(source: BFI)

My top five: 
1. The Irishman

2. The Amber Light
3. Meeting Gorbachev
4. Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections
5. Hoop Dreams

Home entertainment Top Ten (DVD/Blu-Ray/Download): 

1 (3) 
Spider-Man: Far from Home (12) ***
2 (new) The Lion King (PG)
3 (1) Toy Story 4 (U) ***
4 (2) Yesterday (12) **
5 (4) Aladdin (PG)
6 (5) Rocketman (15) ***
7 (8) Avengers: Endgame (12) **
8 (7) The Secret Life of Pets 2 (U)
9 (6Men in Black: International (12)
10 (16) The Grinch (U)


My top five: 
1. Apollo 11

2. Photograph
3. Transit
4. The Chambermaid
5. Spider-Man: Far from Home

Top five films on terrestrial TV:
1. Paths of Glory [above] (Sunday, BBC2, 12.45am)
2. Great Expectations (Sunday, BBC2, 3.05pm)
3. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Saturday, C4, 9.10pm)
4. Enchanted (Saturday, five, 12noon)
5. Top Hat (Friday, BBC2, 3.35pm)

"The Amber Light" (Guardian 22/11/19)

The Amber Light ****
Dir: Adam Park. Documentary with: Dave Broom, Ian Rankin, Alasdair Gray, Ryan Chetiyawardana. 93 mins. 12A

Adam Park’s documentary opens with a title-card acknowledgement that “the story of whisky is a familiar one” before carving out its own distinct and distinctly engaging niche. It’s less interested in the business side of whisky than its social aspect: how this liquid gold has been drunk through the ages.

To this end, Park joins the whisky scholar Dave Broom on a tour of Scotland, and those sites where the drink was originated, developed, reclaimed and knocked back. Invariably – this having clearly been one of documentary’s more enjoyable shoots – their itinerary involves Broom taking a dram or two himself. The title refers to the impeccably hip watering hole the film concludes in, but also to the warm, convivial glow radiating out from the screen.

Park and Broom cover a lot of ground at a distiller’s measured pace. Opening on the Isle of Islay, with an immensely watchable primer on peatcutting, they cook up medicinal whisky in woodland and visit East Fife’s new microbrewery hotspot between trips inland to city pubs for rendezvous with such eminent thinkers and drinkers as Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray.

This quasi-magazine show treatment – call it The One More Show – permits Park and Broom multiple lines of approach to the roots of Scottish drinking culture: whisky as a bringer of warmth, and a means of reconnecting with the land. It also permits some re-examination of stereotypes. As Rankin euphemistically observes, “Sometimes [whisky] brings out the worst in you”, providing the film’s own “drink responsibly” disclaimer.

The broad remit means there are places where it might seem wobbly or fuzzy-headed: I wasn’t sure Broom’s musician pals brought much to the table, beyond drinking songs that admittedly break up the talk. Yet Dan Dennison’s cinematography keeps landing on the kind of satisfying, weathered textures you’d want from any glass of Glenlivet, much as Park and Broom keep coaxing out useful insights: Gray raises the suggestion that Scotland remains a series of islands squashed together into co-existence, which may be worth considering as the independence debate grows louder.

Extremely good company – not unlike snuggling into a pub nook with passionate, well-lubricated conversationalists – it’s a film made for nippy late-November afternoons. 

The Amber Light opens in selected cinemas from today.

"Blue Story" (Guardian 22/11/19)

Blue Story ***
Dir: Rapman. With: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence. 91 mins. Cert: 15

YouTube hasn’t been the happiest breeding ground for cinematic talent, as those of us still processing the traumas of 2010’s Fred: The Movie will attest. This much-hyped inner-city drama – the debut of Deptford-born Rapman, a.k.a. Andrew Onwubolu, whose webseries Shiro’s Story closed in on ten million hits last year – is at once more encouraging: an assured, capably performed morality play, it’s easily the best of its type since 2012’s My Brother the Devil.

Tackling an especially vicious outbreak of gang violence on the border separating Peckham and Lewisham, Onwubolu ports across many of the elements that made his online endeavours such a success, chiefly a sure feel for the rat runs of South East London, and a rapped on-camera narration from the writer-director himself.

This last is where Blue Story feels most innovative, elevating a fairly stock melodrama – centred on childhood pals Tim and Marco (Stephen Odubola and Micheal Ward), set in fatal conflict by their older brothers’ affiliations – into unapologetically, exhilaratingly musical territory. (Turn the dial, and we’re not too far from Greek tragedy, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.)

The device is at least as dynamic as the scuffling, which erupts out of nothingy Tuesday afternoons, or indeed Onwubolu’s sometimes lurching narrative. A “three years later” card placed at the halfway mark allows for closer scrutiny of the consequences of street violence, whereupon Odubola – pick of the film’s promising new faces – reinvents the boyishly likable Tim as a brooding, hoodied avenger.

If there’s a limitation, it may be in a modesty of means and spirit you possibly wouldn’t expect from a filmmaker newly signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label: I found myself wanting more narration yet, and it’s a headscrambler to see a Paramount Pictures production with scenes that take place outside a Greggs.

That, at least, is true to the way Onwubolu swears off the usual flash and posturing in favour of a careful, rooted storytelling, forever finding subtly differentiated perspectives on gang life, and offering his characters as many ways out as there are ways in. Even an apparently throwaway Game of Thrones reference serves as a comment on houses divided and turned against themselves to no good ends. 

Blue Story opens in cinemas nationwide today.

Reverse engineering: "Le Mans '66"

The film released in North America as Ford v. Ferrari has been issued across Europe as Le Mans '66, a title presumably seen as more approachable, less likely to bypass the attention of the casual Odeon-goer. (Not for the first time, you'd love to know what was discussed in the focus groups.) In the battle between the two Fs, James Mangold's very watchable drama has picked a side - and it's most definitely not that of the Italians. Instead, the film describes the true-life special relationship between a Limey and a Yank that was to reassert the primacy of American race-car engineering, the right to burn rubber and gas. No film, whatever its title, has been more specifically targeted at the remnants of the rustbelt, and at former factory-line workers who've found themselves with unexpected leisure time after successive rounds of layoffs. Over two-and-a-half hours, the movie sets out how the Ford company - such a fixer-upper that the projector in the firm's boardroom jams mid-presentation - came to save face after seeing its takeover bid for Ferrari humiliatingly slapped down, and eventually upheld the legacy of its problematic founder. The title change can't quite conceal the fact this is another of the studios' non-franchise productions to have been greenlit by executives on the implicit understanding it's really all about business; the cars are in some fundamental way secondary to the turning round of a sinking ship.

Mangold's trick is to find buoying pockets of human interest within that story. He constructs a big, boxy film - a mid-range station wagon of a movie, plugging onwards in a steady second gear - finding room upfront for quite a fun odd couple, the mismatched mavericks who got the job done. There is Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, source of much of that steadiness), a down-home Texan recruited as the last American winner of Le Mans to oversee Ford's early Sixties racing set-up. And there is Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the confrontational Brummie mechanic-turned-star driver, rarely seen without a smudge of engine oil across his face and a chip on his shoulder, who was in or out of the team depending on the Ford suits' tolerance for the cheek with which he proposed his inspired tweaks. Bale's enjoyably broad performance, scattering impatient bluddy-hells at each turn like a Sunday driver stuck behind a caravan on the Erdington ring road, can't help but recall this actor's recent performances for David O. Russell, but Le Mans '66 has none of Russell's subversive crackle. Mangold, the kind of dependable journeyman who might just have been claimed as an auteur of sorts in a time before grown men had to make Wolverine movies to keep themselves in circulation, merely gets this narrative up and running, then guns it all the way down the home straight to where it wants to go. The film is nothing if not a smooth ride.

A premium-grade Fox budget means it passes through a lot of handsome, stirring scenery en route: some post-Mad Men business in the Ford company offices, with the ever-wily Tracy Letts on imperious form as Henry Ford Jr., lots of magic-hour shooting around racetracks and test circuits, a workshop full of Ferraris, and a final, forty-minute recreation of the Le Mans 24-hour race (cameras strapped to speeding front bumpers, as per Claude Lelouch's C'était un Rendez-vous) which looked pretty damn convincing to this sometime racing fan, though you might want to refer to Top Gear magazine for a definitive verdict. It's also possible to detect some very savvy script engineering courtesy of the Butterworth brothers; everything about Le Mans '66 has been fine-tuned to play well on a Friday or Saturday night. This is the kind of film where a marital row is played out not over the breakfast table (too static), but at high speed in a car negotiating some perilously steep corners; where a dispute between Shelby and Miles over internal Ford policy escalates into a fistfight on the front lawn. It's just unsubtle enough to grab and hold a NASCAR crowd's attention, perpetually tossing hotdogs and T-shirts our way, but I sensed Mangold striving to do something a little more personal amid the finale about the tenuous place the maverick occupies within industry, and especially in a nicely modulated coda in which Damon gestures towards the emotional repression of a certain species of American male - a gulping-down of feelings that can only be overcome by putting pedal to the metal.

Granted, looking out at the world through a windscreen generates a selective view. Aside from that row - which feels heavily like the result of sighing rewrites - Mrs. Miles (Outlander's Catriona Balfe) has really nothing to do save to pick up after the couple's son and go out for groceries, hoping her speedfreak man will return to her after another hard day's piloting. (It's the astronaut's wife role.) That may be true to the period, but it's also typical of a film attempting nothing revolutionary; its success at a hitherto stagnant box-office - I saw it the Tuesday night after it opened, with a three-quarters full house - can be attributed to both a nostalgia for the manufacturing industry and for those starry, foursquare pictures such as Hollywood used to make. That's fine, but that nostalgia occasionally comes at us with a whiff of something fustier still: the movie does nothing very much to undercut Ford Jr's stated aim to best the "greasy wop" Ferrari, despite a scene in which, reduced to tears by Shelby's driving, he reveals a secret longing to have made his daddy proud. It's revealing that even a cornily rousing chequered flagwaver like this - a film that, for all its length and considered prestige, has nothing much more to say than any chant of "U.S.A." or "we're number one" - should repeatedly expose the willingness of men to serve as serfs or spare parts in a system, and those men's inability to regard women, non-drivers and indeed non-Americans as anything more than obstacles. It has enough juice in its tank to travel a long way round the awards circuit in the coming months, but Le Mans '66 has rolled off an old-school factory line, for better and worse.

Le Mans '66 is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Along came Polly: "A Dog Called Money"

This has been a good decade, in the main, for PJ Harvey: a second Mercury Music Prize for 2011's Let England Shake, an MBE in 2013 (surely unthinkable circa 1992's "Sheela-Na-Gig"), followed by an underlining of her artistic credentials with 2016's The Hope Six Demolition Project. It ends with what has so far been judged a misstep. Directed by the photojournalist Seamus Murphy, A Dog Called Money is two rockumentaries in one, and critics have - perhaps inevitably - been happier with the one that takes place closer to home. On one hand, this is a making-of for Hope Six, conceived as part of an art installation whereby visitors to the basement of Somerset House in London could peer in through one-way glass at a specially constructed recording studio that suggested some 6Music takeover of the Big Brother house. Both that project and Murphy's documenting of it are interesting - at least as interesting as, say, what Godard did with the Rolling Stones in One Plus One - in the way they open up the creative process, the creative space: like the day-pass holders, we're permitted to look in at a dynamic record labels have traditionally kept off-limits, for various reasons. So we get to see Harvey imploring her collaborators to keep the studio tidy, and doling out hugs, and playfully taking the piss out of her fellow musicians, thereby dispelling a previously rather remote and forbidding image. (Much as 1939's Ninotchka was famously sold with the strapline "Garbo laughs!", Dog could deploy "Polly smiles!") All the while, Murphy is recording a quiet miracle: that music this forceful in its themes and sound should have emerged from such artificial conditions.

Having shown Harvey at work, the other, more contentious half of the film forms an attempt to show her working in the mathematical sense - to illustrate how she arrived in this goldfish-bowl studio with the eleven songs that add up to an acclaimed #1 album in the age of Pitchfork and Spotify. As Murphy follows Harvey to battle-scarred Kabul and Kosovo, to Washington's ghettos and the borders of Syria, it becomes clear this half is a mirror image: this time, Harvey is the one doing the peering-in, on underprivileged African-Americans, palsied beggars, frantic refugees, all framed with the same striking compositional eye Murphy has displayed in his still work, and overlaid with Harvey's hushed, poetic narration. This voiceover, which sounds very much like the notes a musician scribbles down while looking out the window of a well-stocked, air-conditioned tour bus, and a little like those breathy staccato mutterings that grace the soundtracks of latter-day Terrence Malick movies, appears to have been a major sticking point for some. Yet at the very least Harvey's looking outwards and wrestling with her position of privilege, and that process yields far fewer regrettable Spinal Tapisms than illuminating pangs of conscience. "I hope we know when to leave," the singer muses over footage of the hollowed-out buildings of Afghanistan, the clear implication being that so many foreign occupiers haven't. If the delivery is breathy and tentative, that may be out of a desire to tread lightly.

Both halves, then, are reflective, caught up with how art gets made from life. We need the overseas scenes to show that, despite what we see in the bowels of Somerset House, Harvey isn't operating in a vacuum, that the words and songs she brought into the booth come from some place real - realness, as ever, being the prize all serious musicians have their eyes set on, for better or worse. A Dog Called Money thus enters into the eternally unresolved debate on the extent to which creatives can have any lasting impact on the wider world, whether they give back in pleasure and enlightenment anything like what they take for inspiration. (One question the film raises: can close proximity to an NME Lifetime Achievement awardwinner really ease the passage of Syrian refugees?) And yes, there's some residual preciousness hanging over proceedings, no matter that it stems from Harvey taking a particular care to outline her vision for this project, to ensure Murphy's images back up the points she was making in the studio with her words. Yet it pays off as cinema in a late sequence where sonic elements we've previously only heard recorded in isolation are merged into the one full song on the soundtrack, while Murphy cuts together shots of people he and Harvey observed on their travels so that they appear to dance in unison. This montage flirts with hands-across-the-waters Koyaanisqatsism, maybe, but thrown in stark relief by fractious footage from a Trump rally (for 2016 was also the year that project came to fruition) it can only appear jubilant, joyous, absolutely an example of what Harvey is trying to achieve with this music. As with that studio, she wants to leave the world in a tidier, better ordered condition than she found it. In messy old 2019, that doesn't seem such an ignoble ambition for a rock singer to have.

A Dog Called Money is playing in selected cinemas, and streaming via MUBI UK.