Sex, Leins & Videotape #26. Paignton film critic Tom Leins checks out this week’s most bizarre DVD releases – so you don’t have to!
If you can’t wait for Tim Burton’s upcoming Alice in Wonderland extravaganza, why not take a detour into London’s seedy underbelly and have a gander at this cut-price offering instead?! Malice in Wonderland (Sony) is an offbeat gangster yarn starring Maggie Grace (Lost, Taken) as Alice, an amnesiac American heiress stranded in London with no recollection of who she is or why she’s there.
She enlists the assistance of Danny Dyer’s crafty cockney cab-driver Whitey (effectively the White Rabbit in human form) and the pair trawl the back streets of London in an effort to establish Alice’s identity. Cue colourful encounters with midgets, carnies, transvestites and truck-stop prostitutes!
Despite some intriguing scenes, and some entertainingly bizarre interludes, Malice in Wonderland lacks the requisite hallucinatory quality, and falls strangely flat. It would be interesting to see what a director like Terry Gilliam could have done with the same material, as there is definitely scope for something bewildering. The engaging supporting cast (including Super Hans from Peep Show) keep the movie watchable, but Malice in Wonderland is destined for curio status. Somehow I don’t think that Tim Burton will be having too many sleepless nights after watching this dubious offering.
Danny Dyer supports his campaign to be recognised as the hardest working cockney in cinema with another supporting role in Dead Man Running (Revolver) , a testosterone-fuelled gangland caper that gives top billing to Dyer’s old mucker Tamer Hassan (The Business). Hassan stars as Nick, a reformed criminal who is forced to revisit his sordid past when transatlantic loan shark Mr Thigo (50 Cent) demands the return of £100,000 – within 24 hours. If Nick is unable to raise the cash, Thigo will kill his wheelchair-bound mum (Brenda Blethyn)! Tamer Hassan was great in The Business (and indeed little-seen horror flick The Ferryman), but frankly he deserves better than this half-baked thriller for his first lead role.
The bare-knuckle fight scene at the beginning is brutally effective, but the comedy interludes are ill-judged, and everything in between is merely adequate. Anyone who has witnesses 50 Cent’s performances in Righteous Kill or Streets of Blood will already be well aware of his dangerously limited acting range, but Dead Man Running sees the rapper-turned-actor hit a new low-point, and his incongruous presence does little for the film’s ambitions. Anyone with a taste for brutish bloke-thrillers will be happy to go along for the ride, but Dead Man Running is effectively a poor man’s Snatch, and won’t dislodge Guy Ritchie from his Brit-crime pedestal.
Since the cult success of his blistering screenwriting debut Kids, writer-turned-director Harmony Korine has endured a torrid time on the fringes of Hollywood, with his films all too often struggling for distribution. 2007’s Mister Lonely (ICA Films) – out next month – arguably represents Korine’s most mainstream movie yet. It stars Diego Luna as a disaffected Michael Jackson impersonator working for chump-change in Paris. After a chance encounter with a sultry Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton), Michael is encouraged to accompany her back to Scotland, and live at her impersonator commune in the Highlands. Along with her husband (Charlie Chaplin), and a strange assortment of other impersonators – including the Pope and James Dean – the pair attempt to build a grand stage so that the world can watch them perform!
Mister Lonely offers up a bizarre premise, ripe for comic potential, but Korine isn’t particularly concerned with generating laughs, and instead pieces together an extended mood-piece that seeks to examine the muddled nature of identity. Mister Lonely is peppered with neat moments that bolster Korine’s visionary status, but it remains an unfortunately patchy affair, and only occasionally hits the twisted nigh notes that it aims for. The narcoleptic pace and blissful soundtrack (courtesy of Spiritualized) establish the mood just fine, but the distracting sub-plot featuring Werner Herzog as a German priest derails the movie somewhat. Fingers crossed that Korine’s imminent movie Trash Humpers finds him back on solid ground.
I’ve reviewed some poor films in my time, but never before have I witnessed something as monotonously lousy as Southern Softies (Chick Ken). Ostensibly a showcase for retro comedy character John Shuttleworth (Graham Fellows), Southern Softies is a half-hearted spoof documentary in which the Northern funny-man trawls the Channel Islands in an effort to ascertain whether southerners really are as soft as Northerners think they are. Why anyone would want to invest time and money in a project as pointless and badly realised as this is a mystery to me! In a world where Sacha Baron Cohen creates comedy gold with his increasingly provocative mock-umentaries, Shuttleworth’s moribund approach is truly baffling. Graham Fellows has neither the enthusiasm or comedy chops to entertain viewers, and Southern Softies trudges from painfully unfunny scene to painfully unfunny scene. To describe it as half-baked is an insult to badly thought-out films everywhere! Ghastly stuff.