Monday 25 September 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, The Bad Batch, and The Red Turtle: Your Week In Film (September 25-October 1)

A right Charlie: Hunnam is King Arthur in Legend Of The Sword

The highs and lows of this week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All films available to rent, buy and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated...

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

In a year of egregious box-office flops, one film stands head and shoulders above the rest as the floppiest flop by far. Some madman gave Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels) $175million to make King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW, only to see it bomb spectacularly. When a $100m marketing budget is factored into the equation, The Hollywood Reporter reckons the film will end up losing around $150m. In parlance Ritchie would understand, "Blimey, soppy bollocks, you've made a right pig's ear of that, ain'tcha?"

As well as losing a horrifying amount of money, Legend Of The Sword suffered a critical kicking, confirming the film as a 24-carat, copper-bottomed disaster. Oddly enough, though, it really isn't anywhere near as terrible as we've been led to believe. It's no misunderstood classic, I'll grant you, but no worse than most other summer blockbusters in this or any other year. I'd certainly rather sit through it again than a single minute of Power Rangers, The Dark Tower, or The Mummy.

This is an origin story and Ritchie certainly isn't afraid to offer a very different take on the Arthurian legends. In his version, Arthur's uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) has killed Arthur's father Uther (Eric Bana) and seized his throne. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) managed to escape and, unaware of his birthright, grows up and amasses a small fortune living outside the law. When Vortigern - paranoid that Uther's son will one day come looking for him - demands every adult male in his kingdom must attempt to pull the former king's enchanted sword Excalibur from its stone, Arthur shows up and does precisely that. Action, adventure, magic, sword play, and enough cockney accents to fill EastEnders for a month ensue.

Whilst you have to admire his chutzpah, Ritchie makes some odd choices. How do you update King Arthur for the 21st Century? According to the Sherlock Holmes director, you turn him into a sort-of superhero. Whenever he grips Excalibur two-handed, Arthur's eyes glow an uncanny blue and a strange hurricane thingy descends and throws all his enemies around. It's like he's a member of the X-Men or something. It's also a misstep to completely ditch Guinevere and Lancelot from the story. Surely one of the most intriguing facets of Arthurian lore is that while Arthur has the power and charisma to unite and rule an entire nation, he's incapable of keeping his missus from another man's bed. It makes the 'Once and future king' vulnerable, a right bloody big cissy, and something Ritchie therefore has no interest in.

When Ritchie isn't taking liberties with the source material, he's nicking ideas from all over the shop - Macbeth, Game Of Thrones, Reservoir Dogs, and John Boorman's Excalibur (the best King Arthur film) to name but a few. And while I wondered if the appearance of a giant snake might be a meta-commentary on the film's relentless laddishness, I ended up deciding it was probably just appropriated from the 1976 version of King Kong.

Despite its numerous shortcomings, though, Legend Of The Sword is never boring, and a lot of that is down to Ritchie's pacy, showy direction (particularly in a short but celeverly conceived scene, featuring the Lady of the Lake). Meanwhile, Law chews the scenery as the wretched Vortigern to pleasing effect, and it's always a treat to see the criminally underrated Neil Maskell (Kill List) again, especially when it's in a pretty meaty supporting role as Arthur's comrade in arms, Back Lack. Ritchie's movie does just about enough to ensure I'd have been on board for a sequel... although the chances of such a thing happening are probably on a par with Tommy Wiseau directing the next Bond picture.

Sword of vengeance: Arthur is out to reclaim his birthright

The Bad Batch (Netflix) WWW is a woozy, sun-baked, fever dream of a movie that could be called a cannibal love story, a dystopian sci-fi western in the mould of Mad Max, or simply a very odd black comedy. We should probably expect nothing less from the mind of writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour for the follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, her terrific horror-inflected debut from 2014, which was similarly keen to mix and match genres, sub-genres, and all sorts of seemingly contrasting ideas at will.

It's the future and all the criminals, ne'er-do-wells and oddballs (the titular 'Bad Batch') have been kicked out of the United States and confined to a vast desert area outside Texas. Soon after her arrival in this most hostile of environments, Arlen (British model Suki Waterhouse) is abducted by residents of a small town populated entirely by cannibals, including Jason Momoa's Miami Man. She loses an arm and a leg to her hungry hosts but, with the help of the mysterious, mute Hermit (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey), escapes to a blissed-out, drugged-up religious community under the leadership of The Dream (Keanu Reeves). When Miami Man's young daughter falls under The Dream's seemingly nefarious spell, Arlen puts aside her hatred for him and decides to rescue his kid.

Whilst it contains just as many ideas as Girl..., The Bad Batch never quite catches fire in the same way. Perhaps its influences seem a little easier to spot this time, while Arlen is nowhere near as intriguing a protagonist as Sheila Vand's Chador-clad creature of the night. Perhaps it's unfair to compare the two films but inevitable when both are very unconventional love stories, as well as movies about outsiders (vampires, cannibals, and criminals). That said, Lyle Vincent's photography is gorgeous, the soundtrack one of the year's best and Amirpour makes some good points about the way in which those who don't conform are brutalised and discarded. Proceedings only really threaten to derail towards the end, when Reeves takes centre stage, and starts talking about toilets. I expected Captain Underpants to show up at any moment.

The hunger games: Momoa turns cannibal in The Bad Batch

In a good week for off-kilter romance, there's also The Red Turtle (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW½, a wordless (but not silent) animated collaboration between the legendary Studio Ghibli and Oscar-winning Dutch animator MichaĆ«l Dudok de Wit. 

A simple but very moving story sees an unnamed man washed up on a desert island, presumably following a shipwreck. His attempts to escape on a series of wooden rafts are scuppered by a mysterious creature, which is eventually revealed to be a huge red turtle. When the great sea beast lumbers onto dry land, the man kills it in a fit of fury. It's at this point proceedings take a turn for the most peculiar and, what started off as a simple survival story, pitches headlong into the realms of purest fantasy.

One look at the trailer should give you an idea of just how beautiful De Wit's minimalist animation style is. The film is only 80 minutes long but it took me nearer to two hours to watch all the way through, because I kept hitting the pause button, so I could gaze admiringly at his figure work and gorgeous backgrounds. Dear god, it's lovely.

What The Red Turtle is actually about isn't easy to pin down and is probably all the better for it. De Wit isn't interested in spoon-feeding you explanations for what is going on and clearly wants his audience to make up their own minds. As a result, his film sticks around in your head for days afterwards (perhaps the only thing it has in common with Darren Aronofsky's mother!) as you mull over its possible meaning. Is it a dream? An exploration of man's relationship with nature? A celebration of life, love and death? I rather suspect it's all three and a lot more besides.

Turtle power: Another beautiful animation from Studio Ghibli

Film Of The Week: The Red Turtle

What I shall be watching this week: On Body And Soul - an unusual love story set in a Hungarian abattoir, from a director who hadn't made a film in 18 years - has intrigued me, so I'll be checking it out on Curzon Home Cinema.

UK's top 10 best-selling DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. Alien: Covenant
2. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service
4. Sing
5. The Boss Baby
6. Hacksaw Ridge
7. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
8. Beauty And The Beast
9. La La Land
10.Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.1 and 2

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