Monday 17 October 2016

The Clan, Mascots, 13th and The Greasy Strangler: Your Week In Film (October 17-23)

Family guy: Guillermo Francella (centre) in The Clan

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

Having watched The Clan (DVD and VOD) WWW, I'd assumed its unnerving star Guillermo Francella was an Argentine dramatic actor specialising in crime lords and serial killers. His piercing eyes and stony demeanour would have surely made him a shoo-in. Turns out his career has been mostly spent in comic roles, which makes his utterly frightening turn here, in a film based on a true story, even more impressive.

Francella plays Arquímedes Puccio, the head of a seemingly respectable, middle class Buenos Aires family in the early 1980s. The end of Argentina's fascist military junta is in sight but this isn't good news for Arquímedes, who has done rather well out of the regime. To bolster his earnings as an intelligence officer, the patriarch - with the forced cooperation of his rugby star son Alex (Peter Lanzani) - has been kidnapping wealthy locals and holding them for ransom. However, as democracy returns to the country, it isn't long before his support networks start to crumble and he has the law breathing down his neck.

Director Pablo Trapero's film has been compared favourably with Martin Scorsese's work but, certainly subject matter-wise, it reminded me a little of David Michôd's Animal Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Ben Wheatley's Down Terrace (although it lacks the latter's bleak humour). 
These are all tales of ordinary monsters and Arquímedes is their king - sitting down for a family meal or helping his kids with their homework, before popping to the cellar to rough up a victim whose family can't come up with the ransom. It's thrilling and disturbing, but I'm not sure on-screen crime has ever looked so gratifyingly grubby and unglamorous.

A new Christopher Guest comedy is always welcome, even if it's one as slight as Mascots (Netflix) WW½. Set in the world of competitive sports 'mascotry', the director and co-writer covers similar ground to his superior Best In Show, as we're introduced to a variety of endearing eccentrics all preparing to compete for the prestigious Gold Fluffy at the 8th annual World Mascot Association Championships.

It's likeable, knockabout stuff with some fine comic turns from the likes of Love & Friendship's Tom Bennett (who you also might recognise from this) and Chris O'Dowd as bad-boy ice hockey mascot The Fist. Many of Guest's usual collaborators, including Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr and Parker Posey, are all present and accounted for too, although only the latter feels like she gets enough screen time. Sadly, though, Mascots never quite catches fire and, if anything, it really just made me want to go back and rewatch the likes of A Mighty Wind and Waiting For Guffman, whose Corky St. Clair character the director briefly reprises here.

Guest of honour: Mascots is on Netflix now

You'll find laughs of a rather more extreme nature in bizarro comic-horror The Greasy Strangler (cinemas, DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW. When Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels) isn't giving highly inaccurate 'disco walking tours' of Los Angeles to bemused tourists with son Big Brayden (Sky Elobar), he's out murdering people as the Greasy Strangler - a killer who is, literally, covered head to toe in a thick layer of grease. When Brayden gets his first girlfriend - Janet (Eastbound & Down's Elizabeth De Razzo) - Ronnie is furious with jealousy and resolves to steal her from him.

Chock-a-block with catchphrases ("Bullshit artist!") and lines of dialogue you can imagine half-cut students bellowing at midnight screenings, Jim Hosking's film - an unholy marriage between Troma and Harmony Korine - clearly fancies itself a future cult classic. It would all seem a bit contrived and cynical if it wasn't genuinely funny, gratifyingly repulsive (even the soundtrack made me queasy) and riotously entertaining. There's just something about the entire unhinged project that tickled me - starting with its title.

Grease is the word: Definitely not safe for work

The week's most essential - but discomfiting - viewing comes in the form of 13th (Netflix) WWWW, Ava DuVernay's excoriating documentary about the massive over-representation of African-Americans (particularly men) in US jails.

The Selma director starts her analysis with the abolition of slavery in 1865 and the US constitution's 13th amendment which wrote it into law: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

DuVernay's controversial but powerfully argued contention is that rather than being abolished, slavery was merely "redesigned", the line that says "
except as a punishment for crime" deployed as a weapon against America's black population in the form of mass incarceration.

Only released in the States on October 7 (13th is the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival), it features a parade of diverse and impressive talking heads, including Black Panther activist-turned-tenured professor Angela Davis and former Republican speaker of the house Newt Gingrich.

But anyone expecting a party political broadcast on behalf of the Democrats will be sorely disappointed as DuVernay turns some of her fiercest fire on former president Bill Clinton and his wide-ranging crime bill of 1994, which led to prison overcrowding amongst other unintended consequences. Impressively up to date - including coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement and Trump's bid for the White House - if 13th doesn't make you fizz with anger, I'm not sure what will. 

Behind bars: Ava DuVernay's powerful documentary

A Welshman sits alone in a car for 90 minutes jabbering increasingly frantically into a mobile phone as his world implodes around him. It's hardly an elevator pitch up there with Alien’s ‘Jaws in space’, is it? Still, what Locke (23:30, Saturday, Channel 4) WWW½ lacks in spectacle and action, it more than makes up for in Tom Hardy’s assured, sympathetic performance. Steven Knight's film is short and sharp and - unusually for a Saturday night on Channel 4 - being shown at an almost reasonable time.

What I'll be watching this week: I'm having a bit of a cinema catch up with The Girl On The Train and War On Everyone both on the agenda.

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

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