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Monday, 10 July 2017

Logan, Trespass Against Us, and A Cure For Wellness: Your Week In Film (July 10-16)

Claws for alarm: Logan and Professor X are on the run in Logan

Last week was a skip week because of my Top 25 of 2017 list taking precedence, so we have lots to catch up on in an extra-length column this time. As ever, it's a round-up of the best and worst in UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All films mentioned are available to buy or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

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

There's a faint whiff of desperation about Logan (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½, a needy desire to be taken seriously and thought of as far more "adult" than the X-Men films' usual mix of mutant mayhem and video-game-style CGI. So, here you have a hard-boiled future version of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, in a movie full of bad language, ultra-violence, references to the 1953 western Shane ("There's no living with the killing"), and, to really underline its grown-up credentials, a pair of bare lady breasts. BAM! KAPOW! Superhero movies aren't just for kids anymore!

Logan - old, knackered and losing his mutant healing factor - is trying his best to navigate a dark, dusty and dystopian world in which the X-people are all, well, ex, and Professor Charles Xavier, aka the world's most powerful telepath, has a very dangerous form of Alzheimer's. Of course, trouble comes looking for the pair in the form of Laura (Dafne Keen), a young mutant whose abilities mirror Logan's own. She's the first of her kind born in 25 years and is therefore very valuable to the usual collection of shadowy corporate bad guys. Only Logan and the Prof can keep her safe, as they all strike out for Eden, a possibly apocryphal mutant safe haven in North Dakota.

Once James Mangold's film gets all the showing off out of the way and the novelty of Professor X saying "fuck" begins to fade, there are several moments when it calms down to genuinely earn its "mature viewers" stripes, making this a genuine cut above the super-powered norm. The most gripping sequence is set on a farm belonging to the ill-fated Munsons, a close-knit family who have made the mistake of taking our three fugitives in. Unfortunately, the bad guys - including X24, a savage clone of Logan - aren't far behind and the result is both merciless and heartbreaking. When it's operating at that level - like the gritty western or uncompromising action movie it wants to be - Logan is a triumph. When it's coming on like an uppity 12-year-old with a cigarette in its hand, it falls rather flat.

Logan unlucky: Jackman's Wolverine is in a world of trouble

If I tell you that A Cure For Wellness (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) is a bit David Cronenberg, a bit Hammer Horror, and a bit Shutter Island, you might get all excited. So, let's, before we go any further, curb your enthusiasm, and instead point out that Gore Verbinski's film is rather less than the sum of its influences. It is, in fact, a spectacular tsunami of terrible old guff. 

Dane DeHaan (soon to be seen in Luc Besson's eagerly-awaited Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets) is Lockhart, an ambitious but troubled executive sent to an exclusive Swiss wellness spa to make contact with his company's CEO and return him to New York. As you'd expect, Lockhart stumbles into sinister goings on and is soon being held at the spa against his will. There is body horror, mysteries galore, an off-kilter fairy-tale vibe (shades of Tim Burton), Jason Isaacs chewing the scenery as the spa's twisted owner, and, for reasons that I'm still not entirely clear on, a shit load of eels. The otherworldly Mia Goth (The Survivalist) also turns up and is comfortably the best thing in it.

The first half-hour's passable, the last half-hour's solid, it's the interminable and very silly 80-odd minutes in the middle that I have a problem with. Any satire on quackery (which, under all the eels and campery, is what this is) is to be applauded, I guess, but Wellness is so absurdly over the top that its actual point gets lost amidst the histrionics.

Keeping it eel: A Cure For Wellness is very silly indeed

Michael Fassbender is a very fine actor. I know this because after spending multiple films pretending to be a bad guy with the powers of a magnet and fetching up in terrible old bilge such as Assassin's Creed, he's still utterly believable and totally mesmerising in Trespass Against Us (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW, a low-budget British crime movie set in and around a West Country Traveller camp.

Fassbender is Chad Cutler, disaffected son of Brendan Gleeson's Colby, the leader of the camp who struts about the place doling out orders like a shell-suited Mussolini. There is friction between father and son, because Chad is under pressure from Kelly, his wife (Lindsay Marshal), to leave and strike out on their own - away from Colby's pernicious influence. Colby, a controlling bully, wants his son to remain, mainly because his driving skills are key to the old man's various criminal enterprises.

Gleeson and Fassbender have rarely been better, the former full of brooding malice and child-like belligerence, the latter a fairly weak man desperate to escape but not having a clue how to slip the ties that bind. Director Adam Smith (Doctor Who, Skins) grabs your attention from the very first scene in which Chad's seven-year-old son Tyson (Georgie Smith) drives a packed car full-pelt through a field in pursuit of a hare, and holds it thereafter. In many ways, this is a powerful character study of the two men but Smith and screenwriter Alastair Siddons cram so much more into its 90+ minutes, including a simmering feud between Chad and Rory Kinnear's local copper. There's a real focus to it, which means hardly a frame or line is wasted. Trespass doesn't end up where you expect it to either and it's always good to be wrong-footed.

Alas, while there's a seeming authenticity in the language and milieu, I found the depiction of the Travellers problematic. At times, Trespass's parade of thieving, cussing, brawling, wrong 'uns made the banjo-twanging inbreds in Deliverance look like members of the Algonquin Round Table. I'm not asking for the members of this ever-controversial group of people to be depicted as angels or paragons of virtue but a little more nuance, and fewer burning piles of car tyres, would have been appreciated. This is close to be being a cracking little film but is holed beneath the water by some unpleasant and lazy stereotypes. 

Fass and furious: Michael has daddy issues in Trespass Against Us

Based on Stephen Fry's 1994 comic novel of the same name, The Hippopotamus (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½ is one of those films that starts off as one thing, before pinging off at a not-entirely-agreeable tangent. The wonderful Roger Allam (who I loved best as the Ken Clarke-esque leader of the Tories in TV's The Thick Of It) is Ted Wallace, a failed poet turned venomous theatre critic and high-functioning alcoholic. (His generous proportions and fondness for soaking in baths explain the film's title). Wallace is fired from his job after an unpleasant but hilarious altercation at a performance of Titus Andronicus, and it looks like the rest of the film will be about him struggling to conquer his demons before staging a suitably rousing comeback. 

However, a curve ball enters proceedings in the shape of Jane (Emily Berrington), Wallace's monied but perhaps terminally-ill god-daughter who despatches him to Swafford Hall in pursuit of the miracles she believes happen there. "You'll know them when you see them," she tells her godfather cryptically, much to Ted's bemusement and frustration. A farce of sorts entails, featuring the kind of characters you only ever find together in stories set in posh English stately homes, including a rich rotter, an outrageous homosexual, a sexy foreigner, and a strange teenager. It's only a juicy murder away from being a game of Cluedo.

I'd have happily sat through Allam raining down hate-filled scorn on London luvvies for 90 minutes without a single bit of plot in sight and things are never quite as much fun again as they are in the film's first 20 minutes. Four writers are credited with the screenplay but, let's face it, Fry's authorial voice is by far the loudest. If The Hippopotamus is about anything it's the novelist digging religion in the ribs again, as he attacks the very notion of the supernatural, whilst fingering miraculous happenings as something all too human in origin and usually rather grubby. When the film's big revelation comes, it's as disturbing as it is clunky. Elsewhere, though, John Jencks' film is witty and laugh-out-loud funny, and that will do just fine.

Roger and out: Allam's Ted has problems with his career and booze 

Finally, I've waxed lyrical about Paul Verhoeven's Elle WWWW several times, since first encountering it last October, particularly here and here. It's finally out on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD from today and you should do all you can to see it. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you gasp, it'll make you think. Film of the year, hands down.

What I shall be watching this week: I have a Wednesday morning date lined up with either horror-flick It Comes At Night or Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply. Choices, choices, choices...

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