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Monday, 8 May 2017

Passengers, Silence, and In The Shadow Of Iris: Your Week In Film (May 8-14)

Lost in space: Passengers fails to live up to its intriguing premise

UK home entertainment highs and lows for the next seven days. All films ready to buy or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

The French movie industry isn't a big fan of
Netflix and I can't imagine In The Shadow Of Iris is going to do a whole lot to improve relations. Not because there's been a row over the Paris-set erotic thriller's release in the country but more because it isn't particularly good.

This latest 'Netflix Original' centres on the supposed kidnap of Claudia (Charlotte Le Bon), the wife of successful banker Antoine Doriot (Jalil Lespert), by former jailbird car mechanic Max (Romain Duris). However, it soon becomes clear the kidnap plot is a fake and that Claudia and Max are in it together to collect the ransom. That is until another big twist arrives - this time involving the titular Iris (Hélène Barbry) - throwing the whole thing up into the air again. There's quite a bit of this for the next 90 minutes or so, and it soon becomes quite tiresome.

Lespert clearly wants his film to be thought of as Hitchcockian - part of the main story involves a mistaken identity plot not a million miles away from Vertigo - but Iris really never earns that description. The twists all feel a bit too familiar and are hardly fiendish or inventive. When a film pulls the rug out from under your expectations, it should take your breath away. Chan-wook Park's recent The Handmaiden does that over and over but the supposed sleights of hand presented here just sort of happen, inspiring little more than a half-interested shrug.

I'm not really giving much away by revealing that sexually frustrated Antoine likes a bit of the old BDSM - it's a post-50 Shades Of Grey erotic thriller, so of course he does. But In The Shadow Of Iris is more like the sort of grubbily glossy movie Brian De Palma might have knocked up 30 years ago, only not nearly as good. I'm a fan of Duris (he's brilliant in The New Girlfriend from a couple of years back), but he spends pretty much the entire film scowling out from under a Charles Bronson moustache. In fact, both he and Lespert are off-puttingly hirsute, like long-lost members of The Bee Gees, who have had a falling out.

At least Lespert's direction is assured and eye-catching. He handles the tsunami of twists well, imbuing Iris with genuine pace, and perfectly captures Paris in all its twinkling night-time splendour. The most enjoyable aspects of the entire enterprise, though, are Adel Bencherif (A Prophet and London Has Fallen) and Camille Cottin (Allied), as two romantically-entwined cops investigating the kidnap. I cared about their story far more than I did anyone else's.

Shadow of a doubt: Ransom, kidnap and BDSM

In old-fashioned football pundit parlance, Passengers (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW is a game of two halves. The first is good solid sci-fi fare, the second clumsy and formulaic. Set entirely on a spaceship full of thousands of 'sleeping' humans, heading for a colony planet many light years away, a malfunction causes Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake up 90 years early from his slumber to find everyone else still happily snoozing away. Unable to return to 'suspended animation', Preston's loneliness and boredom cause him to fixate on another passenger, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). Should he wake her to share his burden, even though doing so will condemn her to the same fate he faces - death years before the spaceship reaches its destination?

Suffice to say, Preston makes altogether the wrong choice, which should have been a springboard for something interesting, inventive or crazy, but instead Passengers soon gets bogged down in the kind of plot you could see most weeks on any sci-fi TV show of the last 50 years. The malfunction with the sleeping pods soon spreads to other areas of the ship threatening to destroy it - unless Jim and Aurora can find a way to fix the problem. Pratt and Lawrence are always watchable - as is Michael Sheen, as a robot barman - but this never lives up to its intriguing premise.

Bad romance: Pratt and Lawrence star in Passengers

"Three hours of my life I won't get back - bored shitless," reckoned Ian, while Jamie weighed in with "Just as boring as religion itself". Linda wasn't too impressed either: "Liam Neeson was in it for all of 10 minutes. Bored to tears." Everyone's a critic, it seems, but these comments - lifted from the official Facebook page of Silence (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WWWW - pinpoint why Martin Scorsese's latest failed to hit the right note with audiences and flopped at the box office. Too long (2hrs 41mins), too slow, and not the kind of film Scorsese (or Neeson, for that matter) is best known for.

Unfortunately, Ian, Jamie, and Linda - as well as the film's other numerous detractors - are all talking out of their hats because Silence is only a little short of magnificent. It's deliberately paced and takes its own sweet time to unfold, yes, but is also powerful, compelling, multi-layered and heart-breaking. Add beautifully shot to the list, too. Why do films have to move quickly? Why does everything have to be tied up in a neat bow inside 90 minutes? Why do people who regularly think nothing of watching 10 or 12-part TV shows have such a problem with any film that dares 'go on a bit'?

Based on Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel of the same name and set in the 17th Century, Silence sees two young Portuguese Jesuit priests - Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver - travel to Japan to track down their former mentor Neeson, who is rumoured to have publicly renounced his Catholicism. Entering the country is fraught with danger for our protagonists as religious persecution is at its peak, with Catholics who refuse to commit apostasy tortured until they do, or executed. The pair are under constant threat and the tension they feel is palpable.

More than anything, though, Scorsese's film - a project he'd been trying to get off the ground for decades - is a bold and serious-minded interrogation of religious faith: what it actually means and whether it is wasted on a God who never answers your questions and entreaties (hence the title). The big question it poses - and, ultimately, answers too - is whether it is ever right to repudiate your faith, even if in doing so you will save lives, not least your own. It wrestles with big themes other supposedly weighty films wouldn't dare go near, although I would have liked to see it tackle the idea that the importation of religion into a country often went hand in hand with imperialism. It raises the subject but drops it too quickly.

Never mind Heartbreak Ridge, this is Garfield's best performance to date, but he's matched all the way by a couple of the Japanese supporting players. Issey Ogata as the chief interrogator is cruel, charismatic and comic by turns, while I'm not sure I've seen a more powerful study in self-loathing than Yōsuke Kubozuka's wretched apostate fisherman. It's a great film, don't let anyone tell you different.

A prayer for the dying: Scorsese's underrated Silence

I didn't expect to like Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie WWW half as much as I did but the film's knockabout laughs and air of general silliness had me under its spell from the get go. Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin is Gene Handsome, a Los Angeles homicide detective investigating the murder and dismemberment of his new neighbour's young babysitter. With its catchphrases, call-backs and cast of eccentric characters, Garlin's movie (he directs, co-writes and stars) isn't a million miles removed from the kind of inspired mucking about Police Squad/The Naked Gun specialised in 30-odd years ago. Despite its undoubted (and deliberate) debt to other cop shows and films (its theme tune even sounds like Henri Mancini's The Pink Panther), however, Handsome is both charming and funny.

Garlin is his usual likeable, lugubrious self but, truth be told, it's Handsome's supporting cast that steal many of the scenes here, especially Orange Is The New Black's Natasha Lyonne as the detective's highly-sexed cop partner Fleur Scozzari, and Brad Morris's Burt Jerpis, a fellow officer never short of a ridiculous and convoluted whodunit theory. I could have done without Kaley Cuoco, from The Big Bang Theory, popping up for a pointless cameo late on, but I hope this isn't the last we see of Handsome and his outlandish ensemble. A series, please, Netflix.

Watching the detectives: Jeff Garlin is Gene Handsome

Also showing this week...
1. Hell Or High Water (Amazon Prime Video, Tuesday)
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Channel 4, 2am, early Thursday morning)
3. Aliens: Special Edition (Film4, 11.25pm, Thursday)
4. 12 Years A Slave (Channel 4, 9pm, Saturday)
5. The Mask (ITV, 9.50pm, Saturday)

What I Shall Be Watching This Week: Curzon Home Cinema features an attractive double bill of new films from Friday - Hope Dickson Leach's The Levelling and François Ozon's Frantz. Both available on the same day as they hit UK cinemas.

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

2 comments:

  1. For some reason I'd never heard of Silence, but it looks fascinating. I looked it up on LoveFilm to rent it, and I see that there is another version, made in 1971. I've added both to my rental list.

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  2. I'd be really interested to know what you think to Silence. I suspect if Scorsese had made it in the 80s or 90s with De Niro and Day-Lewis, it would have won a million Oscars and been regarded as a classic. To modern audiences, though, maybe it seems a bit old-fashioned. I keep meaning to watch the earlier version but haven't got to it yet - opinion on whether it's as good as Scorsese's seems to be quite divided.

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