Monday 4 July 2016

The Neon Demon, Son Of Saul and SPECTRE: Your Week In Film (July 4-10)

Devil in a new dress: Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon

This week's column is respectfully dedicated to the memories of filmmakers Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man), who both passed away last week...

TV, Radio, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and cinema picks for the next seven days...

Monday 4th: Son Of Saul (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) is a profoundly moving film that left me feeling raw, dazed and utterly heartsore. The eponymous Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz (i.e. a Jewish prisoner forced by the Nazis into helping with the disposal of gas chamber victims). Desperately clinging to what's left of his humanity, Saul comes across the body of a young boy, takes him for his son, and pledges to give him a proper Jewish burial. László Nemes' Oscar winner captures the hell of the death camps with horrifying precision but it is never exploitative. In fact, because the director chooses to focus his lens almost exclusively on his lead, the film's most potentially disturbing images remain mercifully unseen. Nevertheless, there are scenes here to chill the blood, none more so than when Saul is part of a work unit shoveling the ashes of the dead into a nearby river. At times, the film's horror lies in its sheer matter-of-factness - a relentless, monotonous factory conveyor belt of murder. It had the same effect on me as Lars von Trier's Dancer In The Dark, a bravura but devastating piece of work I've found impossible to watch more than once. 

Bravura but devastating: Oscar winner Son Of Saul

It feels almost sacrilegious to mention a film as scatological as Grimsby (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) in such close proximity to Son Of Saul. But, for all the critical negativity it copped, Sacha Baron Cohen's outrageous spy spoof, which also stars Mark Strong as the Ali G man's long-lost brother, made me laugh a great deal. Most of these gross-out comedies struggle to come up with one genuine 'you have got to be kidding me' moment but Grimsby has about half a dozen. Maybe us Brits just happen to do good, honest filth better than anyone else. Roman Polanski's 1972 film What? (Blu-ray) is a real oddity. It's a bizarre sex comedy that was pilloried on its release and is said to be the "most butchered, debated and least-seen film of the Oscar-winning director's entire career". Sydne Rome (Just A Gigolo) and the great Marcello Mastroianni (La Grande Bouffe) star. Amazon's streaming service has recently added half-a-dozen films by Jim Jarmusch to its catalogue, including Mystery TrainDown By Law and Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp. Now You See Me 2 - which I mentioned last week - is in cinemas from today. 

Spies like us: Sacha Baron Cohen in Grimsby

Tuesday 5th: MUBI UK have temporarily handed over control of their programming to Nicholas Winding Refn, director of The Neon Demon (see Friday 8th). The Danish filmmaker has chosen seven films, most of which are available to watch now via the subscription streaming service. They include Dario Argento's bonkers giallo Suspiria, Federico Fellini's gorgeous, hedonistic La Dolce Vita and, from today, Gus van Sant dark comedy To Die For, which stars Nicole Kidman in one of her best roles, as a rapaciously ambitious TV weather girl.

Weather with you: Nicole Kidman in To Die For

Wednesday 6th: Belle (Netflix UK) is that rarest of cinematic offerings; a period costume drama that didn’t put me to sleep within the first 10 minutes. Set in 18th Century England and based on a true story, it chronicles the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (beautifully played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain. She is raised in splendour by her aristocratic great uncle (Lord Mansfield) but held back socially by the colour of her skin. She falls in love with a young abolitionist and together they set about trying to persuade Mansfield – in his role as the Lord Chief Justice – to refuse insurance to the owners of a ship who had thrown slaves overboard then tried to claim for them as “cargo”. Yes, it’s worthy and liberal, and yes, the usual costume drama tropes are all present and accounted for, but the racial tensions of the period give the material a real edge and modern perspective. The cast, which includes Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson and Emily Mortimer, is uniformly superb, while director Amma Asante is clearly destined for big success. The Legend Of Tarzan - starring The Diary Of A Teenage Girl's Alexander Skarsgård as Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle hero, and current Hollywood go-to girl Margot Robbie as Jane - hits cinemas. No cameo for best-Tarzan-ever Ron Ely though...

Jungle fever: Tarzan's back and kicking arse

Thursday 7th: Sundance hit Brahman Naman (Netflix UK) looks like it might be enormous fun. The coming-of-age comedy is set in Bangalore in the 1980s and follows Naman, a high-school quiz champ, who, along with his similarly geeky mates, embarks on a trip to Calcutta for a major college quiz. The trio are out to win top prize... and lose their virginity along the way. The Film Programme (16:00, BBC Radio 4) features Rebecca Miller, the director/co-writer of Maggie's Plan (see Friday 8th), in conversation with Francine Stock. Tobe Hooper's disturbing, deranged The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hits MUBI UK, and there's more horror from The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen (23:50, TCM). This longer take on William Friedkin's classic chiller contains five major bits of added footage, including the infamous 'spider walk' scene.

Quiz kids: Brahman Naman was a hit at Sundance

Friday 8th: Three films I'm desperate to see are in cinemas from today (what's the betting my local Odeon shows not one of them?). The Neon Demon has already garnered much controversy and many a column inch for Drive and Only God Forgives mastermind Nicholas Winding Refn. Set in the LA fashion industry and starring Elle Fanning, it sees the Danish auteur dipping a bloodied toe into the horror genre, complete with cannibalism, 'aberrant sexuality' (whatever that is) and impractical frocks. In the UK, Anthony Weiner, the titular star of documentary Weiner, is probably only known to fans of The Daily Show and students of US politics. The Democrat congressman was disgraced and humiliated after a 'sexting' scandal during his 2013 bid to become mayor of New York. Given extraordinary behind-the-scenes access to its subject, Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman's film chronicles how both Weiner's political and personal life came to be torpedoed as a result. Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore is one hell of a cast and reason enough on its own to see 'anti-rom-com' Maggie's Plan. Gerwig plays the titular Maggie, a young woman desperate for a child and about to embark on an affair with a much-older, married man (Hawke). Gerwig was terrific in last year's sublime Mistress America so I have high hopes for this.

Refn ready: The Neon Demon is out on Friday

If you're staying home, check out Daniel Craig's reportedly final outing as James Bond in SPECTRE (06:00 and 20:00, Sky Cinema Premiere, also available on NOW TV). Sam Mendes' film starts with a bang – a brilliantly choreographed action sequence set amongst the crowds celebrating Mexico's Day of the Dead – but soon drifts off course. It's not bad but never comes close to matching the breathless thrills of Casino Royale or the nostalgic sock to the jaw that was Skyfall. Christoph Waltz (who is one of the best things about SPECTRE) is also the guest on this week's Kermode And Mayo's Film Review (12:00, BBC Radio Five Live), where he will be talking about his villainous role in the aforementioned The Legend Of Tarzan. The show is only on for an hour again this week (blame the tennis) so you'd be far better off listening to the podcast.

The thick of it: Weiner chronicles a career in meltdown

Saturday 9thBen Wheatley's High Rise is out on DVD and Blu-ray in a couple of weeks so this is a good time to check out his 2009 directorial debut, Down Terrace (01:55, BBC2). It centres on a Brighton crime family - a kind of cut-price Corleones - trying to root out the police informant responsible for sending their son to jail. As riotously violent and darkly amusing as you'd imagine. Seth Macfarlane's gratifyingly smutty Ted (21:30, Channel 4) is the tale of a hopeless man-child (Mark Wahlberg) and his best friend; a living, breathing stuffed bear with twin penchants for foul language and bad behaviour. Not sure what amused me most, the film itself or the po-faced reaction to Guardian film critics naming it their No.2 movie of 2012 (The Master was No.1). Ryan Gosling's the motorcycle stunt rider turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper the rookie cop with whom he's on a collision course, in powerful drama The Place Beyond The Pines (00:35, Channel 4).

Small-time crooks: Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace

Sunday 10th: Flatliners (23:45, BBC1) is a supernatural thriller which sees a starry cast - including Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon - playing medical students who conduct dangerous experiments as they search for the secrets of the afterlife. But their dabbling with nature's dark forces goes wrong and the gang soon starts to suffer nightmarish visions and hallucinations. Flatliners isn't one of director Joel Schumacher's best films - Falling Down, Phone Booth, Batman & Robin (only joking!) - but its stylish visuals, intriguing premise and breathless pace make it worth a look. Elsewhere tonight, there's a fine double helping of dark comedy. First up is Ealing classic Kind Hearts And Coronets (20:15, Gold), which is most notable for Alec Guinness' virtuoso performance as eight different characters, all the victim of a murder plot. Following that is Bruce Robinson's bitingly satirical follow-up to Withnail & IHow To Get A Head In Advertising (23:00, Gold). Richard E Grant stars as a disillusioned ad exec determined to escape the rat race, only for the boil on his neck to develop a personality of its own and start to take over his body.

Til death do us part: Flatliners investigates the afterlife

UK box office Top 10
1. The Secret Life Of Pets
2. Independence Day: Resurgence
3. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case
4. Me Before You
5. The Nice Guys R
6. Alice Through The Looking Glass
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows
8. X-Men: Apocalypse R
9. The Jungle Book R
10. The Boss

R = Recommended

All information current at time of publication

1 comment:

  1. Crikey, I haven't seen How to Get A Head in Advertising in years, and I was just thinking about it the other day. That'll be one to watch.