Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Interview (Craig Monahan, 1998)

Distinguished from its identically-titled peers by being solely about interviews, this has Hugo Weaving pulled in by the police for questioning about a stolen car. The interrogation is intimidatingly opaque and Weaving's innocence self-evident, until he suddenly turns from harassed victim to devil's advocate and starts running the show, giving them a convincing account of the multiple murders he has actually been behind. In parallel with this, the policemen doing the investigation are under investigation and eventually interview themselves for their unorthodox methods.
Weaving, with his soft voice and probing pale eyes, is a perfect fit for a character who veers abruptly between vulnerability and inhumanity. It's a small film with limited ambitions, but does leave us guessing at the facts beyond the closing credits, and that lack of gratification is gratifying in itself in a world of too many pat endings.


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead wakes up from a car crash to find herself injured and handcuffed in a basement by a disconcertingly forthright captor in the form of John Goodman, who then informs her that she's in a bunker for her own protection because a chemical attack has killed everyone outside. Since Goodman has an abundance of previous in playing superficially friendly psychos, he doesn't exactly engender trust with that statement, and it soon transpires that he's an archetypal survivalist with several screws loose. For a while, the presence of a third person, another man who was contracted to build the bunker, keeps things from boiling over and the appearance of a dying woman at their door dispels doubt about the veracity of the disaster. But it doesn't end there, and when it goes truly off the rails, Winstead's reaction is priceless.
This is related to the 2008 found footage alien monster invasion smash in name only, and thank God for that, since the first film bearing the name was a ludicrously hyped barrage of shaky camera filming unbearable arseholes running to and fro. It's no masterpiece of any genre, but it does keep you watching because you simply don't know what genre it really belongs in until very late in the game.


La migliore offerta (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2013)

In Deception, Geoffrey Rush gives a tour de force performance as Virgil Oldman, an idiosyncratic ageing auctioneer who's contacted by a young woman requesting a valuation of her dead parents' antiques and paintings. He accepts begrudgingly after having been bombarded with her pleas, and it then transpires that she's severely agoraphobic and won't allow anyone to see her in person. A heavily Hitchcockian mystery story ensues as he finds himself falling for her and finally letting down his defences against the world.
Rush occupies the role of the truculent, supercilious Oldman effortlessly, making every one of his obsessive quirks real, and Tornatore's direction complements this perfectly. What works less well is some of the dialogue, which at times feels very much the product of stilted translation into a second language, as well as the unexplained and needless decision to film the whole thing in Italy and then fill it with only English-speaking actors without making any reference to the actual location. Also, while the emotional progression of the protagonist is credible, the actual twist denouement is too heavily signposted. It concludes in a frustratingly open-ended manner, which is a pity as it has continuously promised to deliver a concrete point until that moment. But you can't deny Rush or the style either.


Monday, 26 February 2018

Mute (Duncan Jones, 2018)

Netflix must have thought they were onto a winner when they got Duncan Jones, director of the estimable reality-bending sci-fi works Moon and Source Code on board to make a thriller set in a near future Berlin. Unfortunately, it's now apparent that the stinker that was his last film, the computer game spin-off Warcraft,  was no anomaly: his is a quicker flash in the pan than M. Night Shyamalan's and he has no innate quality control.
Plank-like Alexander Skarsgård plays a mute bartender whose girlfriend goes missing, launching him on a search for her through the city's underworld. In addition, he's Amish and therefore also technologically backward, so the search is beset with even more obstacles. Meanwhile, in a parallel story on a convergence course with his one, we follow two American black market surgeons as they torture and patch up people at a gangster's behest: Paul Rudd, doing a sort of psychotic version of Hawkeye from M*A*S*H and his paedophile friend. They are somehow meant to be likable too, and the world they're in is meant to be interesting. It is not. It's a mish-mash of pillage mostly from Blade Runner, all urban decay, neon advertising, holograms and flying cars, and wholly incongruous elements which the film does not have the intellectual rigour to bother to explain, such as the continued anachronistic U.S. military presence in the city and the co-existence of all manner of 1990s clothing and technological paraphernalia alongside the random future stuff. Just to underline how eclectic the society is, and simultaneously underline how derivative and anime-level infantile the set-up is, everyone apart from the leads has a stupid post-punk haircut and robot pole dancers get thrown in too.
It dawns on you very soon that the story being set in Germany is only for modish effect, because otherwise it's a wholly American affair, from the fundamentalist Amish background of the main protagonist to the bowling alleys and continuation of the war in Afghanistan in the news, and might as well have been set there instead. The transposition therefore really adds nothing of purpose and then it's just a pointlessly long slog through extreme violence to an unsatisfying resolution. Jones will have to pull something miraculous out of the bag next to earn trust once more.


Saturday, 24 February 2018

Kraftidioten (Hans Petter Moland, 2014)

In Order of Disappearance (dignified with a considerably cleverer title for the international market than the original Norwegian) has Stellan Skarsgård go full Liam Neeson as a snow plough driver in the icy Norwegian mountains whose son is given a drug overdose by a ruthless local gang, and then proceeds to plough through them one by one. Supposedly a black comedy, it relies on turning each relished killing into a whimsy for its humour through insert screens after each one, announcing who just bit the dust, and the rest of the comedy is equally fumbling, as you might expect of Nordic culture where stand-up is still a relatively new and exotic thing. There are some moments of amusement when aggrieved Serbian gangsters turn up and comment on the cultural oddities of Norway, and the film could have done with much more of this. As it is, instead we get Bruno Ganz mumbling Serbian as their boss for some bizarre reason and an entirely foreseeably bloody ending.
In a development that sees life imitating satire to the nth degree, this is actually being remade in English, with...Liam Neeson.


Friday, 23 February 2018

The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)

Explaining the arcane world of the U.S. subprime mortgage-derived housing market crisis and how it led to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 to the layperson is quite a challenge, never mind keeping them interested in the topic for all its gravity. The Big Short takes on the task by attacking it through a variety of techniques, ranging from incongruous celebrities breaking the fourth wall to give analogies of what went on to brief on-screen glossaries of the most nebulous terms. It still takes some work to keep up at some points, but, as the characters repeatedly point out, the very nature of the banking system that created the bond instruments that resulted in the crash is deliberately obscurantist, in order to conceal its misdeeds from the public.
On an entertainment level, the film is well served by its cast, led by Steve Carell as a perpetually angry hedge fund manager crusading against the inequities of the system, Christian Bale as a semi-autistic visionary who first discovers the impending disaster and Ryan Gosling as a smooth banker who makes no bones about simply wanting to cash in on the crisis. But, despite the comedy (unsurprising, as the director was behind the Anchorman films), what it finally imparts is a sense of indignation at how this was allowed to happen, and how no-one behind it really got their comeuppance at all. Hence, the film can be considered to have accomplished its difficult mission.


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Tardes para la ira (Raúl Arévalo, 2016)

A man whose girlfriend was killed in a jewellery store robbery eight years before sets out to hunt down all the possible perpetrators when the only member of the gang to have been caught is released from prison. Without knowing which of them was guilty of the murder, he loses whatever moral compass he had on the way.
The Fury of a Patient Man was abundantly rewarded in Spain's Goya awards, and it does have a certain complexity in its basic revenge scenario, with conscious decisions to steer away from the standard plot trajectory, but it's still just a revenge scenario, brutal and lacking in real-world consequences, and has little message beyond 'blood will have blood'.