Alistair Harkness reviews the latest releases
The Look of Love (18)
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Imogen Poots, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton
Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan shoot blanks with their latest collaboration, a surprisingly dull biopic of the late Paul Raymond, the self-styled “King of Soho”, smut-merchant and one-time richest man in Britain. Though Control screenwriter Matt Greenhaugh’s script provides opportunities for Winterbottom and Coogan to play around with the biopic form in the way they did with their magnificent Tony Wilson film 24 Hour Party People, Raymond as conceived here is revealed as a curiously uninteresting subject for a film. The flashpoint moments in his rise from stage magician to adult revue impresario to publisher of glossy porn mags in the pre-internet age of top-shelf entertainment provide the spine for a fairly predictable and tedious look at Raymond’s relationships with the women in his life. Chief among these is his troubled relationship with his daughter (Imogen Poots), whose move into showbusiness Raymond is simultaneously too indulgent and too inattentive to monitor properly. Sex, drugs and tragedy duly ensue, but while Coogan (and the rest of the cast) work hard to bring more than dodgy haircuts and leery behaviour to the table – there’s one great scene between Raymond and an illegitimate son that says much about what a contradictory arse he probably was – The Look of Love remains skin deep.
The Gatekeepers (15)
Directed by: Dror Moreh
Though balance – or at least the appearance of balance – is often regarded as the benchmark for good documentary filmmaking, the unique perspective Dror Moreh’s fascinating film brings to bear on the complexities of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian situation makes its one-sided account easy to forgive. Gathering together the former heads of Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet, the film provides frank, eye-opening and highly personal accounts of more than four-decades worth of Israeli policy on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Mistakes, triumphs, failures and successes are pored over with surprising candor given the nature of their former positions, and Moreh is good at probing his interviewees when they’re being evasive. The film takes us from the Six Day War through to the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Israeli president Yitzhak Rabin, and the targeting of high-level Hamas militants. What it outlines is a cycle of events in which there’s “no strategy, just tactics” and where battles are won but retaliation and escalation means the ongoing war of attrition will likely never end. It’s depressing stuff, but the six men interviewed give thoughtful, reflective answers to difficult questions that end up shining a light on both sides of the conflict.
The ABCs of Death (18)
Directed by: Various
If this compendium of 26 short films about death is anything to go by then horror cinema is in a moribund state. Given a budget of $5,000 to make a death-related short corresponding to a specific letter of the alphabet, the assemblage of international filmmakers who have accepted the challenge succeed only in exposing how devoid of inspiration most of them are. In fact, Ben Wheatley’s Unearthed is the only film worth catching. Sadly, the rest are so eye-wateringly awful, Wheatley fans are advised to wait until his segment – a short sharp blast of creature feature fun – is easily accessible in its own right. Why is rest of this so bad? It’s hard to say. The portmanteau format is fairly unforgiving at the best of times, let alone when multiple shorts of such poor quality are strung together. It doesn’t help that there seems to be a weird scatological fixation running through a number of the films (three actually involve toilets), or that there are some fairly icky and reprehensible sexual perversions on display (mostly via the Japanese entries). The majority of the films, however, either have promising ideas that have been poorly executed, derivative ideas that bring to mind better films or, in the case of the two sets of filmmakers whose films are about making their own films, no ideas whatsoever.
Flying Blind (15)
Directed by: Katarzyna Klimkiewicz
Starring: Helen McCrory, Kenneth Cranham, Lorcan Cranitch, Najib Oudghiri
This BBC Films production is probably more suited to television where its political thriller ambitions, clunky dialogue and unconvincing performances might be less cruelly exposed than they are on the big screen. Helen McCrory stars as Frankie, a work-obsessed aerospace engineer whose job designing drones for the military leaves her with little time to meet anyone. Feeling the pang of loneliness, she’s flattered when Kahil (Najib Oudghiriput), a younger, good-looking Algerian student puts the moves on her. Embarking on an affair while negotiating a punishing work schedule to secure a militarily sensitive contract, her personal, work and political worlds soon start to collide when she discovers her mysterious new beau has been reading Islamist websites and may even be a person of interest to MI5. The schematic nature of this set-up doesn’t bode well for a gripping film, so it’s no surprise director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz can’t find any sparks that would make the film explode into life in any kind of interesting way. As for McCrory, while it’s always good to see a leading role for someone like her, Frankie is such a stereotypical take on the older woman who falls for a younger man that it’s not really worth cheering about.