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Film reviews: The Act of Killing | Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer | The Internship | A Field In England

The Internship

The Internship

Alistair Harkness

The Act of Killing (15)

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer

Star rating: * * * * *

What does the banality of evil look like? In Joshua Oppenheimer’s jaw-dropping documentary it comes dressed in multiple costumes and is sometimes adorned with special effects make-up, but stripped bare it takes the form of a group of ageing Indonesian gangsters happily recounting their days as part of a government sanctioned kill squad responsible for murdering more than a million communists in the wake of the failed coup of 1965.

Unrepentant about their actions, they talk freely about where, why and how they executed their targets, with some bragging about their ability to be more sadistic than the Nazis, and others discussing the way they drew inspiration from the Hollywood movies they adored. It’s this latter passion that Oppenheimer capitalises upon when he asks his interviewees to re-enact on film some of the murders they committed. Eagerly taking to the process with a theatricality that is as delirious as it is chilling, they begin by relishing the chance to be part of the movie business. But as the film progresses, their strange attempts to get into character begin to unravel some of their tightly knotted denials of wrongdoing. It’s remarkable stuff.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (15)

Directed by: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin

Star rating: * * * *

Like the Russian feminist punk band whose story it tracks, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is a short, sharp shock to the system, a quickly produced documentary that captures the fleeting energy and megaton fall-out of their seconds-long impromptu protest gig on the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Resulting in three of its members being arrested and sentenced to two years in prison, the gig was staged to draw attention to the relationship between church and state, but the subsequent political and media furore it generated transformed it into something much bigger.

The film does a nifty job of tracing the build-up to the gig via provocative and excitingly edited archival footage of the balaclava-wearing band’s methods, and it provides useful context for Pussy Riot’s existence and the Orthodox response to their protest. But it’s really the way these young, articulate idealists hold true to their beliefs after they’re arrested that’s startling to watch. With the eyes of the world upon them, they never miss a chance to highlight the absurdity of a system that seeks to silence them – even when facing lengthy prison sentences.

Chasing Mavericks (PG)

Directed by: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny 
Weston, Elizabeth Shue

Star rating: * *

Surf nerds familiar with the true story of how 16-year-old big wave rider Jay Moriarity attempted to conquer one of the most forbidding breaks in America should probably brace themselves for another cinematic wipeout with Chasing Mavericks. In the process of detailing how he became a surf legend, the film transforms what could have been a fascinating tale of talent, luck, pluck and perseverance into a rote and corny coming-of-age movie.

Newcomer Jonny Weston doesn’t have the necessary charisma to overcome the film’s naff Karate Kid-inspired conception of Jay as a shy outsider, and Gerard Butler is reliably awful as his mentor, dishing out fortune cookie advice in his terrible American drawl.

Veteran British director Michael Apted replaced Curtis Hanson due to ill health and this may account for why meaningless melodrama – often involving Jay’s mum, played by Elizabeth Shue (another Karate Kid link!) – takes precedence over big surf moments. Whatever the case, this ends up being another film about pushing one’s limits that resolutely fails to push any of its own.

The Internship (12A)

Directed by: Shawn Levy

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Max Minghella

Star rating: * * *

Egregious product placement for Google notwithstanding, The Internship proves a much funnier proposition than its generation gap comedy premise might suggest. Put that down to Owen Wilson and, especially, Vince Vaughn, whose schtick of talking really quickly without saying much manages to be amusing for the first time in what seems like eons.

Reunited for the first time since Wedding Crashers, they play a couple of high-end watch salesmen made obsolete by the ubiquity of mobile phone technology. Confronting their own obsolescence in a culture that has gone fully “on the line”, they put their fast-talking skills to use to bluff their way into an internship at Google where they soon find their real world experience conflicting with the virtual experiences of 20-something college kids.

As the film progresses, the laughs (of which there are many) begin to emerge from the rather sweet bond that Wilson and Vaughn’s characters forge with the highly intelligent but emotionally stunted outsiders with whom they’re forced to team up for what one character describes as “mental hunger games”. This film, though, could more accurately be described as a digital Dodgeball.

A Field in England (15)

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt

Star rating: * * * *

Having established himself as one of Britain’s boldest talents, Kill List and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley returns with a fascinating curio: a black-and-white, psychedelic wig-out set during the English Civil War and revolving around a mystical quest for a sinister buried treasure.

Released across multiple platforms (cinema, DVD, VOD, TV), the film is much less accessible than previous efforts, but it certainly works as an admirable experiment in genre film-making. This time Wheatley and his screenwriter/partner Amy Jump have combined elements of occult horror with the historical epic, allowing them to have fun crafting lots of entertainingly ripe dialogue for their deranged characters.

Chief among the latter is Michael Smiley’s O’Neil, an alchemist with some twisted proclivities who, along with his cohort, Cutler (Ryan Pope), lures a cowardly academic (Reece Shearsmith) and a small band of deserters from a battle to aid his retrieval of the treasure.

What follows is an exercise in wilful weirdness as magic mushrooms are inadvertently consumed and people start losing their minds. Explanations aren’t forthcoming, but originality is.

 

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