Monday 30 January 2017

War On Everyone, Christine, and Toni Erdmann: Your Week In Film (January 30-February 5)

Maniac cops: Peña and Skarsgård in War On Everyone

My pick of this week's movie releases on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and in cinemas...

The elegantly titled War On Everyone (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW manages to have its cake and shoot it in the face too. It glories in the corrupt, nihilistic behaviour of two US cops whilst, underneath all the amusing violence and f-word riddled banter, subtly references (often in seemingly throw-away lines) real-life incidences of police brutality, such as the chokehold killing of Eric Garner. It's hardly subtle but its satirical intent is much appreciated and surprisingly smart.

Michael Peña (Ant Man) and Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend Of Tarzan) are the officers in question – Bob Bolaño and Terry Monroe (yep, Bob and Terry, just like in The Likely Lads). The former is a smartly-dressed, highly intelligent, family man, the latter a boozy yob with a thing for Glen Campbell, who walks like someone left the coat-hanger in his suit jacket. The mismatched pair (short/tall, Latino/white, clever/dumb) are both spectacularly corrupt and seem to have taken that Rust Cohle quote from True Detective - "The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door" - a little too literally.

A wafer-thin plot revolves around their efforts to relieve a criminal gang - including a smarmy but dangerous English lord (Theo James) - of a million bucks in ill-gotten gains. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh (Calvary and The Guard) clearly loves his old-school cop TV shows and movies, as the influences of Starsky & Hutch, Police Squad and Clint Eastwood loom large. Caleb Landry Jones as Russell, War On Everyone's most memorable baddie, looks like he's just stumbled off a 1970s movie set. He's a louche, viciously camp version of Andy Robinson's Zodiac Killer from Dirty Harry, and you expect him to burst into Row Row Row Your Boat at any moment.

The characters are cartoonish, the violence pure slapstick, with matters of plot and relationships only taking a turn for the darkly serious towards the end when McDonagh chucks in a revenge mission curveball. Peña and Skarsgård have engaging, knockabout chemistry but Tessa Thompson (Dear White People) is wasted (again) as Terry's love interest. In truth, it's probably McDonagh's weakest film but is huge fun despite that.

Law and disorder: Starsky & Hutch gone bad

Before making Split, five gets you 10 that M Night Shyamalan revisited Brian De Palma's Raising Cain (Dual format) WWW½ just as often as he did Psycho. A breathless Hitchcockian thriller from 1992, Cain stars the great John Lithgow as a child psychologist suffering from a multiple personality disorder, which has turned him into a serial killer. You forgive its startling insensitivity, clunky plot, and a supporting character who turns up purely to deliver great big chunks of expository dialogue, because its brilliantly made and utterly bonkers. Lithgow has the time of his life inhabiting different characters, his over-the-top performance bringing a dash of pitch-black comedy to perfectly complement De Palma's feverish direction.

Arrow Video has released a limited edition, extras-packed, three-disc version of the film that comes with both the theatrical version and a director's cut, plus a host of new interviews (including one with Lithgow). It's an excellent package and one that is also perfectly timed - the Noah Baumbach/Jake Paltrow documentary about the filmmaker - simply titled De Palma - is also out on DVD and VOD from today, although I am yet to see it.  

Splitting image: John Lithgow in Raising Cain

Taking a rather more sympathetic approach to mental illness is Christine (VOD and cinemas) WWW, based on the real-life story of Christine Chubbuck, the Floridian TV news reporter whose on-air suicide shocked America and the world in 1974. Rebecca Hall (The Gift) is excellent as the eponymous character, an attractive, talented young woman who is, nevertheless, desperately lonely, frustrated at work, and clearly uncomfortable in her own skin. Worse still, she has previously suffered some sort of breakdown that is never fully detailed here but which has left her fragile and vulnerable.

Antonio Campos's film recounts the final days of Chubbuck's life as she clashes with her cynical, under-pressure boss ("If it bleeds, it leads"), chases unlikely promotion to a bigger, better TV station, and accepts what appears to be a dinner date from suave station anchorman George (Michael C Hall). Campos has a keen eye for period detail and the hustle and bustle of a busy TV newsroom, while Craig Shilowich's screenplay meticulously but sympathetically lays out Chubbuck's increasingly erratic behaviour as she is assailed by disappointment from all sides. It's a film that pretty much oozes sadness and melancholy, and ends the only way it can.

She's Hall that: Rebecca plays Christine

The critically-adored, Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann WWW finally hits UK cinemas on Friday (3 February). I didn't love Maren Ade's German comedy, about an eccentric father trying to save his icy daughter from a life of corporate drudge, when I caught it at the London Film Festival, but I'm nevertheless looking forward to seeing it again. At two hours, 42 minutes, it's at least half-an-hour too long but the leads (Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller) are both terrific and director Ade serves up a couple of cracking comic set-pieces. The film seems to be getting a decent-sized release (100+ screens) so don't be surprised if it pops up in a multiplex near you. 

The odd father: German comedy Toni Erdmann

What I shall be watching this week: The aforementioned documentary De Palma, plus Lion and Jackie at the cinema.

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

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