Monday 27 November 2017

Beach Rats, Wet Woman In The Wind, and The Work: Your Week In Film (November 27-December 4)

Rat pack: Frankie is keeping a secret from the members of his gang

The best and worst of the week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated. 

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

It's been a year for films in which young men wrestle with their sexuality, most notably in Barry Jenkins' masterful Moonlight. Beach Rats (VOD and cinemas) WWW has certain similarities with the Best Picture Oscar winner, particularly in the way it seeks to tackle notions of masculinity and the idea you can't be a "real" man and gay at the same time. It's about self-denial, guilt, and, ultimately, trying to come to terms with who you are. Moonlight's Chiron is a little more successful at that than our protagonist here though.

Set in Brooklyn, Eliza Hittman's film focuses on Frankie (Harris Dickinson), a troubled, working class teenager experimenting with drugs and sex, as his dad slowly but surely succumbs to cancer. Frankie spends most of his time hanging around at the beach with a small group of friends, all tough-talking, aggressively heterosexual males but, on his own, has started talking to men in chat rooms and meeting them for sex. He also starts seeing Simone (Madeline Weinstein), an attractive young woman who hits on him at a fairground, but it quickly becomes clear his heart simply isn't in their relationship. He prefers men but cannot come out to either his supposed friends or mum, who he figures has quite enough trouble on her hands, caring for his dying father.

It's a sad film in many ways. Frankie is trapped and has to live a lie. He can't be who he wants to be, and isn't entirely sure what that is anyway. He's trying to figure stuff out, but the pace of life and the trials it keeps throwing his way, won't give him time and space to do that. Hittman – and the excellent Dickinson – impressively capture Frankie's confusion and flailing around for meaning. They are also confident enough to not always make him particularly sympathetic either. If Beach Rats is a coming-of-age story, it's one that refuses to offer up easy answers and "everything will work out just fine" platitudes. It accepts that life is tough and, for Frankie, might only get tougher. 

Rat race: Life seems to have it in for teenager Frankie

Wet Woman In The Wind (Mubi) W is the first of two new releases from Nikkatsu, the company whose films dominated the Japanese soft porn market during the 1970s and '80s. These new features, which also include Antiporno (in UK cinemas now), were made with the same creative rules as the original movies – they have to be under 80 minutes long, shot in a week or less, and include at least one nude or sex scene every 10 minutes.

Here, a free-spirited and sexually voracious young woman, named Shiori (Yuki Mamiya), pesters Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka), a successful Tokyo playwright turned hermit, to have sex with her. Disillusion with past relationships is the reason he lives a remote and solitary life, so Kosuke sends her on her way. He soon comes to regret the decision, however, when he sees Shiori having sex with other men, one a surfer she takes back to Kosuke's shack in the forest and screws in his bed. Will the two ever get it together to do the "horizontal tango"? It's a real head-scratcher...

Unfortunately, Wet Woman's crazily evocative title is the best thing about Akihiko Shiota's film, a seemingly good-natured but actually rather grubby affair, which seems to think sexual assault is perfectly acceptable fodder for shits and giggles. There's an actual rape (albeit implied but never commented on again), an attempted rape, and a verbal threat of rape during its mercifully brief 77 minutes. This stuff isn't ever acceptable but seems even more egregious in the current climate. Admittedly, there are a couple of funny slapstick moments and the cast all give it 100 per cent (especially in the numerous "beast with two backs" scenes), but this is crummy, old-fashioned fare from which we've surely all moved on. What's next, a reboot of Robin Askwith's Confessions films? Phwoar!

Rising damp: Wet Woman In The Wind is an old-fashioned dud

Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous's documentary The Work (DVD) WWWW takes place in Folsom State Prison, California (yes, the one made famous by Johnny Cash), and follows three members of the public – all men – who have volunteered to participate in a radical and intense four-day group-therapy session, side-by-side with long-term felons locked up for all manner of violent crimes, including murder, kidnap and armed robbery.

Facilitators are on hand to kickstart the sessions, with the idea being for the men – felons and non-felons – to open up emotionally about their frustrations, regrets and the "betrayals" they feel they have faced throughout their lives. Despite their tough fa├žade and awful crimes, it quickly becomes clear the prisoners are in fact rather fragile human beings, who have been hurt terribly but are incapable of processing their pain or letting it out. They've found a way to prevent themselves hurting and are emotionally stunted as a result. One inmate has never properly grieved the death of his sister, another is contemplating suicide because he can't see his son, a third is increasingly repulsed by his own propensity for violence. Whatever these men have done, this stuff is heartbreaking, and their commitment to guiding each other through it admirable (especially when you consider some are members of rival gangs within the prison).

The group encourages its members to go to the darkest places they can imagine ("the wound"), and unearth the most distressing memories they find there. Suffice to say, proceedings get very raw as they cry, howl, kick out and breakdown. Facing what has been done to them and what they have done is too much for some, but ultimately leads to catharsis and maybe even a step on the way to rehabilitation. In such emotionally charged circumstances, the prisoners are often more sympathetic than the three "outsiders", whose own tales of woe are small potatoes in comparison to what the incarcerated men have been through. Their presence is important, though, as they help us see the inmates as human beings, albeit ones who have lost their way and are responsible for horrible acts. Set almost entirely in one room within Folsom's walls and never averting its gaze from the often quite upsetting scenes it witnesses there, documentary filmmaking is rarely this visceral or challenging.  

Men at Work: Folsom Prison inmates work through their issues

Finally, I was planning to talk about the 4K restoration of Dario Argento's '70s horror classic, Suspiria, which is about to get a swanky new collectors' edition. Unfortunately, its release has been pushed back to next week, so instead I'll quickly mention another Argento film, Four Flies On Grey Velvet WW, which is showing on Mubi until midnight on Wednesday. The Italian master's 1971 giallo forms the middle part of his "animal trilogy" (with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Cat O'Nine Tails) and tells the story of Roberto (Michael Brandon), a rock star being stalked and blackmailed after accidentally killing a man who had also been following him. It isn't a patch on Suspiria but has enough directorial style, preposterous twists and odd humour to compensate for its inadequacies elsewhere. Ennio Morricone, rather than Goblin, provides a suitably haunting score.

First cut is the deepest: There's a killer on the loose in Four Flies On Grey Velvet

Film of the week: The Work

What I shall be seeing this week: George Clooney unearths one of the Coen Brothers old scripts for Suburbicon.

Heads up: I have a new review up on the excellent Film Inquiry website. This time I cast my gaze over powerful Victorian ghost Story, Angelica. Mitchell Lichtenstein's film (his third, following Teeth and Happy Tears) hasn't surfaced in the UK yet, but is currently on limited release in the US.

This week's top 10 UK DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming
2. Trolls - Holiday
3. Despicable Me 3
4. Paddington
5. Cars 3
6. Beauty And The Beast
7. Moana
8. Baby Driver
9. Kenny
10. Fast & Furious 8

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