Monday 21 November 2016

Your Week In Film: Dog Eat Dog, Divines, and Ghostbusters (November 21-27)

Barking mad: Dafoe, Cage and Cook in Dog Eat Dog

A critical breeze through this week's most notable new films on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and TV...

No one - not even Guy Ritchie - makes films like Dog Eat Dog (VOD and cinemas) WW½ any more and, while that may be a good thing, there's still plenty to enjoy in Paul Schrader's blackly comic and irredeemably scuzzy crime caper.

Coming off like one of those post-Reservoir Dogs flicks from the '90s in which mismatched villains talk shit and murder people with impunity, this sees three struggling ex-cons - Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook - running into big trouble when, desperate to make one last big score before fleeing to Hawaii, they become involved in a plot to kidnap a baby. Suffice to say they screw it up completely but, just as I thought the film was heading into Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead territory, it pivoted rather nicely in an entirely different direction.

No, our three Reservoir Idiots aren't undone by a vengeful criminal kingpin but by their own paranoia, stupidity and incompetence. If anything, then, Dog Eat Dog could be read as a rebuke to those earlier movies - there are no colourful characters spouting pithy one liners here, just a trio of sociopathic fools on the road to nowhere good. These are deeply dysfunctional men for whom even conducting a simple one-night stand with willing partners proves impossible.

The tone is set early on with Dafoe's character Mad Dog as he murders an old flame and her teenage daughter (his daughter too, I think). Although the scene is monstrously comic, complimented by some smart visuals, you immediately realise this is not a man with whom you can easily empathise. Despite his character's cartoonish traits, Dafoe is the pick of the leads. Mad Dog is a psychopath who is fully aware of that fact and likes it not one bit. And yet, despite that self-knowledge and resultant self-loathing, he carries on shooting and stabbing regardless.

Schrader - a celebrated writer/director who, lest we forget, penned the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull - has said of his new movie: “I’ve been fortunate over my career to be involved in some important and prestigious films. Dog Eat Dog is not one of them.” For all its faults, you should take that as a recommendation.

Ruff justice: Schrader's crime caper is blackly comic

Say what you like about Netflix but its original film programming really does have something for everybody. Hard on the heels of 13th (Ava DuVernay's documentary about the mass-incarceration of black men in the US) and True Memoirs Of An International Assassin (a Kevin James "comedy"), comes Divines (available now) WWW.

First-time director Uda Benyamina's French-language film focuses on Dounia (Oulaya Amamra), an ambitious young woman embracing criminality in a bid to transcend her rotten life on a Parisian estate. She and her BFF Maimouna (D├ęborah Lukumuena) begin working for local drug dealer Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda) but things become complicated when Dounia falls for dancer Djigui (Kevin Mischel). Spotting the chance to escape her increasingly fraught existence, Dounia decides to take a big risk when Rebecca sends her to retrieve money she is owed by a rival.  

I'm not sure I've seen a better performance this year than the one 20-year-old Amamra gives as Dounia. A feisty, fiery ball of aggression, ambition and desperation, she lights up Divines like a sunrise. The scene in which Dounia finally decides to quit school amidst a massive row with a teacher trying to initiate her in the arcane ways of the job interview is funny, brutal and disturbing. Dounia's desire for "money, money, money" is perhaps crass but perfectly understandable when she and her alcoholic mother know nothing but struggle.

Lukumuena and Kalvanda are similarly excellent, while Benyamina brings some real directorial flair to proceedings, especially in a sequence when Dounia and Maimouna drive an imaginary Ferrari on their estate, and later on when Dounia lies in a bath full of money like she's in a gangster version of American Beauty.

All that said, Divines isn't perfect. It's a bit uneven, has a tendency to lurch headlong into melodrama (especially in its final act) and is full of, if not clumsy, then certainly fairly obvious metaphor (dancing is freedom and escape). Amamra's performance - her film debut - makes it a real must-see though.

Simply Divine: Oulaya Amamra's astonishing debut

This week's biggest home entertainment releases are probably The BFG and Ghostbusters (both out today on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD). The former - directed by Steven Spielberg - boasts some remarkable visuals and a bravura turn from Mark Rylance in the title role, but is ultimately a somewhat ponderous affair that sands down too many of Roald Dahl's spiky storytelling edges and replaces what's left with treacle and cosiness. Even the denizens of Giant's Island - Fleshlumpeater and Childchewer amongst them - are little more than big, ugly bullies rather than the malicious, monstrous creatures they really needed to be. WW

Meanwhile, Ghostbusters might not be a patch on the beloved '80s original but with Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) in the director's chair, Parks & Recreation's Katie Dippold on script duties and Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig leading the cast, it's more than just another pointless remake. In fact, there's a real sense of joy to this female-centric blockbuster that had me smiling from beginning to end, and laughing out loud on at least a couple of occasions.

High spirits: Ghostbusters returns after 30 years

There's an awful lot of other stuff worthy of your attention this week but, lest this column turn into an unwieldy epic, all I can spare them is a quick mention. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star as a couple battling to save their marriage in the underrated By The Sea (from today, 20:00, Sky Cinema/NOW TV) WWW. Jolie wrote and directed the film and, considering recent events, you can't help wonder if she was trying to tell us something. Cracking Aussie horror The Babadook (Tonight, 21:00, Film4) WWW½ features a superb turn from Essie Davis as a frazzled, grieving mum, with Noah Wiseman only slightly less perfect as her disturbed young son. Leonardo DiCaprio finally won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Revenant (from Friday, 11:45 and 20:00, Sky Cinema/NOW TV) WW½ but Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography is the real star. Hunt For The Wilderpeople (VOD, from Friday) WWW is a very funny and utterly charming odd-couple comedy from New Zealand directed by Taika Waititi, who gave us What We Do In The Shadows. And finally, don't miss A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (from Sunday, Amazon Prime Video) WWWW which was one of my favourite films of last year. If you think you've seen every kind of vampire film imaginable... think again.

Go Wild in the country: Sam Neill's aim is true

What I shall be watching this week: South Korean horror film The Wailing on VOD (from Friday), Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them at the cinema with the kids and, on Blu-ray, the newly-restored Napoleon, Abel Gance's silent classic from 1927.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment