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Round-up

Beginners features Ewan McGregor as a thirty-something advertising artist that can’t hold down a relationship. Dad Christopher Plummer announces his homosexuality just in time for a liberated swan song before succumbing to cancer, which forces McGregor into some serious re-appraisal re: his relationship with both his already dead mother (plenty of flashbacks throughout) and father, who now also has a much younger boyfriend, an over-kids-TV Goran Visnjic. And then radiant Melanie Laurent arrives, and she and McGregor initially share the kind of cloyingly indie overtures that prompt thoughts of Miranda July, but this is both less faux-kooky and more affecting than that might suggest, despite a dog that communicates in cuddly subtitles.

Contagion is a tight but swift hurtle into potentially (but not actually that) worrisome global epidemic territory, featuring exponential death rates and lots of opportunities for big-name actors to ‘do’ sick. Gwyneth Paltrow, the first recognisable link in the chain of death through whom we first see the ravaging effects of said virus, offers up a pretty passable rendition of ‘exceedingly ill’ as part of an intermittent cameo. We experience, in Soderbergh’s efficiently and effectively (and starkly colour-coded: the use of filters seems as overt an imprimatur as ever) plotted thriller, an increasingly wrought, ratcheted and gruelling accumulation of dread, corpses, shameless political manoeuvring, selflessness, futile professionalism and a realisation that Jude Law is often very distracting. Of the starry cast, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet (along with the deservedly ubiquitous Bryan Cranston) fare best, not for the first time.

Everything Must Go is a notional adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story: very little of the referred original (Why Don’t We Dance?) survives here, other than a chap (Will Ferrell – good and pleasingly dialled down but you still get the sense that his hangdog equanimity is a serious strain on the leash) unravelled on his pleasant surburban lawn with all his belongings marshalled around him and his beer cluster as part of a pre-eviction/divorce/meltdown yard sale. (Key scene: Ferrell clutches at a cold 8-pack of beer at the local mini-mart, but is clearly in trouble as he instead clink-hauls two 8-packs out of the fridge.)  Instead of a young couple rummaging and delving amongst his marital mementos we have instead a marginalised black kid, an apparently kindly cop keeping fellow feds at bay and an abandoned mum-to-be keeping him nicely dovetailed company. In other words, anything potentially troubling has been excised and replaced with the kind of situations and characters that lend themselves pleasingly to feel-good innocuousness. There are good moments and the pacing of the film is surprisingly comatose at times, but you know where it’s going before it begins. And why’s the nowhere-to-be-seen Laura Dern on the poster? Clearly she went as well.

Kill List is exceedingly powerful, almost suffocatingly so, for an hour, before it decides to become an insane Wicker Man/Eyes Wide Shut hybrid, at which point the film deflates with accompanying fart noises. It’s exceptional for a good while, though, and the director (Ben Wheatley) will doubtless produce something great. The level of bristling discomfort Wheatley develops before it all goes awry (and it’ll depend on how you feel about mad plot twists as to your tolerance level as the film veers into a ‘we’ve run out of ideas’ brick wall) is seriously impressive, and the various Yorkshire locations are not places you want to hang about, particularly not with any of the Kill List cast, though reluctantly negotiating them as part of a truly (in the main) disturbing cinematic voyage is a different matter.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol features a fairly nifty prison break, broad comedy courtesy of Simon Pegg, the human Aardman performer, every few minutes to remind you this isn’t Brian De Palma or remotely serious, and stomach-somersault provocations by way of Tom Cruise slapping along the smoked-glass top floors of the world’s tallest building with only one functioning electro-suction glove. There’s also an occasionally confused-looking Jeremy Renner and the excellent Paula Patton. Cruise is clearly trying to find a niche between Bond and Bourne, and he’s decided that playing it all for laughs at the expense of pulsating grit is the safest route to preserving the franchise. It’s an IMAX/Brad Bird film: it’s never particularly suspenseful and it’s even less often dull. For example: the CGI Kremlin gets bombed, totters and teeters before toppling in a glorious billowing barrage of dust and debris. In other words, you get your money’s worth.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve seen Contagion, which is efficient but not earth-shattering (which seems your view also from above). Otherwise the only one that tempts me is Kill List, which at least tries hard enough to get stuff wrong.

    I’ve read that Carver story. It’s very good. The film doesn’t sound like it captures any of it.

    MI: GP sounds like it pretty much does as advertised, which is no bad thing but I’m not sure it’s my film.

    On another note, I saw The Cabinet of Dr Caligari this weekend just past. Fabulous. Have you seen it?

  2. January 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Kill List is essential viewing, if not actually an essential film: som much is right with it, but it loses its way towards the end and you can see how, on paper, it might well have worked. In actuality it’s daft and an unfitting finale.

    Why Don’t We Dance is an absolute masterpiece of a story (I’m a big Carver fan – Elephant is the greatest single story collection I’ve read) and, maybe wisely, the film doesn’t even bother going after it. It just nicks the premise and does something vaguely interesting with it. Shame. Will Ferrell? Not who I had in mind when reading it…(more Michael Shannon)…

    MI:GP is easy to miss. IMAX renders it interesting, but then IMAX might well make Emmerdale or Scousewives likewise.

    I watched Caligari a long time ago, loved it, but am not qualified to comment in any detail. I must watch it again.

    I kind of wish I had a book blog at this time of year: these ‘end of’ lists are both fascinating pointers and always fail to mention one or two. The Pilgrim Hawk is exceptionally good stuff; The Instructions is just pure, mad fun. Heaven and Hell is basically a Cocteau Twins album put to paper (it’s unique and marvellous). Anyway, Drive review up soon (and I hope to figure out how to link to your book review: if not it’ll be a TINYURL job…)…

  3. January 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    There’s more than one book titled Heaven and Hell, which are you thinking of?

    I have mixed views on Carver, but Why Don’t We Dance is remarkable I agree.

    The instructions is over a 1,000 pages long according to Amazon. Ay caramba!

  4. January 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    This one:

    http://www.maclehosepress.co.uk/book/Heaven-and-Hell-by-Jon-Kalman-Stefansson-ISBN_9781906694531

    It’s a beautiful piece of work, genuinely. I think you may like it.

    Mixed views? Do elaborate on that if you will.

    The Instructions is a bewilderbeast in terms of pages, but it’s an enormous funhouse. It’s the kind of book that splits people; I just found it tremendously exciting and lovable. It’s not all great but by jove what 1000 page book is? Having said that, how many are going to read it?

  5. January 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks, duly noted.

    Some tales blew me away, like Why Don’t We Dance? Others felt a little, well, possibly sentimental. I also wondered if the pared back style was at times a little too writerly, but that’s probably the fact I’ve encountered many weaker imitators trying to be carver. It’s the same issue as with Chandler there in a way. One can read Chandler and see hardboiled cliches, forgetting that they weren’t cliches, he invented them.

    Fun fact. I bought the collection of Raymond Carver short stories I have because I was tired and thought it was a collection of Chandler short stories. Why Don’t We Dance was I think the first I read and I still recall being surprised it was by the same guy who wrote The Big Sleep.

    On second thoughts, let’s pretend I didn’t just admit that…

    • January 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm

      Ha, marvellous. It could’ve been Raymond E Feist, you dropped lucky…

      What I’d give, though, for a first read of Why Don’t We Dance? as though it were Chandler…the thoughts that must’ve whirred…

      It wasn’t that long ago I read The Long Goodbye. Certainly one of my favourite ever reading experiences. Glorious. I always find Ellroy’s criticisms a bit pointless.

  6. Mary Gilbert
    January 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Good reviews Lee but can’t comment further as none of them have reached the far west yet. I did see Edgar G last week which I thought pretty good overall – how does Clint do it?. Leonardo very impressive . He’s porked up a lot and remains at that stage where he can play both young and old convincingly. However the actor who plays his friend Tolson had more trouble ageing and was attacked by a bad case of Latexitis at the end. Despite intense applications of liver spots and a carefully wibbled head the overall impression was pure Fast Show.

    • January 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks Mary and, to be honest, there’s nothing here that’s unmissable. I’d be particularly interested in your thoughts on Kill List, though, if you catch that…

      DiCaprio is much more severe these days, as though a scowl and a glower might nullify the doubters, but he’s very good in every Scorsese thing he’s done and was, in any case, exceptional in Gilbert Grape way back when. I will watch Edgar G at some point, and will try not to think of Paul Whitehouse in prosthetics, though that may now be difficult…

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