NormalTrainspotting author Irvine Welsh created a memorable character in Bruce Robertson, a booze, drug and sex-fuelled Edinburgh policeman whose vileness justifies the title of the book. For writer/director Jon S Baird to cast James McAvoy as Robertson was a considerable leap of faith; McAvoy has a nice-guy persona in films like Wanted and Last King of Scotland that’s the diametric opposite of Robertson. But the casting works; McAvoy is convincingly vental, and his self-destructive tendencies are convincingly wrought. Baird also does a good job in finding a more straight-forward narrative line than in Welsh’s book, even if details like the tapeworm that Robertson converses with are barely realised. Welsh’s prose dares readers to drive through the narrative in search of the next atrocities; whatever its flaws, Baird manages to create the cinematic equivalent, a feverish page-turner that plumbs the depths of a memorable complex and flawed character.
Jude Law’s erratic career as a leading man gets a shot in the arm from Richard Shepard’s tough, abrasive gangster drama, featuring Law as Dom Hemingway. Introduced with a hypnotic monologue in prison, Hemingway springs out into the outside world with a vengeance, chasing after money he’s owed and prepared to administer beating after beating on the way.
Hemingway hooks up with his old pal Dickie (Richard E Grant, to find that the world has gone to the dogs while he’s been behind bars. Unable to smoke in pubs, his wife has gone and his daughter doesn’t want anything to do with him. Dom and Dickie head for the South of France to track down his missing money, and end up in a drugs, booze and sex romp that leaves Hemingway broke and vengeful.
Although the revenge narrative is more conventional, Law makes Hemingway a shockingly original force of nature, the opening scenes are wildly unpredictable as he faces up to various gangster types. And things are brought to a tense climax in an extended scene where Dom attempts to prove that he’s still got the skills to crack a safe, although the manner in which he does so it shocking and surprising. Law has the charisma of Michael Caine in the 1960’s in these scenes, puffed up, arrogant and yet with a few clear chinks in his personality.
Ignored in the UK, where gangster flick are ten-a-penny, Dom Hemingway is not for everyone; his attitudes to sex, money and women are decidedly retro. But he’s a fascinating, vital character, and Shepard’s film gives him plenty of opportunity to vent his spleen through a full-on performance from Law.
You probably have to be in just the right mood to enjoy a menstrual horror film, but if it’s getting to that time of the month, writer/director Richard Bates Jr’s Excision has plenty of pent-up angst to get out. AnnaLynne McCord is Pauline, whose negative relationship with her mother Phyllis (Traci Lords) manifests itself in graphic bloody nightmares. Her dad Bob (Roger Bart) struggles to understand, and instead dotes on her younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter) who has cystic fibrosis. Pauline’s alienation is astutely conveyed, while an accomplished supporting cast, including Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin, Malcolm McDowell and director John Waters, add to the otherworldly atmosphere. With strong warnings about the bloody content, Excision lives up to the surgical promise of the title.
Writer/director Rob Zombie is often cited as everything that’s wrong with the modern horror film; his reboot of the Halloween franchise are a messy distortion of John Carpenter’s original. Frustratingly, when Zombie tries something more artful, it doesn’t make the same impact; a shame, because The Lords of Salem is an accomplished little genre flick. Salem DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a record in the post from The Lords, and playing it gives her a flashback to a murky past event. The record proves popular on her show, but she begins to suspect that its power may be a supernatural one. Zombie claimed this film would be as if ‘The Shining was directed by Ken Russell’, and he makes good on such auspicious reference points, with a host of horror genre cameos (Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman) and a careful restraint employed before a splendid, over-the-top finale that Russell himself might have enjoyed.
It’s not a Alfonso Cuaron film until something gets splashed on the camera, although it’s not still the final scene that something finally hits the lens. The director’s gift for scope, technical excellence and character are all in effect in his 2013 blockbuster, which sports barely 80 minutes of action but keeps up an unremitting intensity as Ryan (Sandra Bullock) attempts to find her way back to earth with the smallest possible bump. Ryan’s back story, her daughter died in a playground accident, is minimally sketched in, but such minimalism is part of the strength of Cauron’s film, with amusing work from George Clooney as her Buzz Lightyear-like companion Kowalski. The real star of Gravity is the way in which a natural force is both hero and villain, threatening and saving Ryan at the same time, and beautifully wrought by impossibly complex special effects that make Ryan’s situation easy to understand. The short film Aningaaq should be viewed as a comedown immediately afterwards; seeing Gravity at home is like viewing snaps taken of a spectacular holiday, not the same experience, but a way of remembering a journey shared.
As grand-daughter of the great Elia Kazan, it’s not surprising that Zoe Kazan has forged a Hollywood careers as an actress in films like Revolutionary Road. What’s more impressive is that she wrote and starred in this original comedy/drama about writer Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) who invents the character of Ruby Sparks, only to have her pop into his life in the form of Kazan. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made their names with Little Miss Sunshine, and Ruby Sparks takes their comic abilities into darker territory, reflecting cleverly on what men want from women; Calvin thinks he wants to control Ruby, but finds that such control is unsatisfying. Support from Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas is entertaining if not entirely relevant as Calvin’s eccentric parents, and Steve Coogan contributes another well-honed turn as Calvin’s literary mentor. Not entirely funny or romantic, Ruby Sparks is surprisingly profound in the way it handles a light conceit, and marks a breakthrough role for Kazan.
Adapted by John Wrahall from CP Talyor’s stage-play, Good is a strong historical drama that deals intelligently with the rise of the Nazi party and German nationalism. As the title suggests, definitions of good and bad are blurred by the story of John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) whose book on euthanasia is seized on by Hitler, and Halder finds himself commissioned to write a paper justifying the extermination of the Jews. Halder’s friendship with Gluckstein (Jason Isaacs) provides an obstacle to his career as an advisor to the Nazis, and his relationship with Ann (Jodie Whittaker) further complicates matters. Isaacs was also one of the executive producers on this worthy, but never dull film, and Mortensen’s immersion in the role of Halder is impressive. One of the few films to consider the complications of 1930’s German nationalism in depth, Good is worth seeking out for those interested in the human cost of war.