Sex, Leins & Videotape: Paignton’s resident film critic Tom Leins kicks off his weekly DVD column with a four-pronged assault on the senses. Enjoy!
Arch-satirist Armando Iannucci picks up where his acclaimed TV series The Thick of It left off with In The Loop (Optimum) , a hilariously cynical vision of the labyrinthine world of Anglo-American war-mongering. Now working for bumbling back-bencher Simon Foster, the incorrigible spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) gets to vent his spleen in Washington’s corridors of power after Foster makes a war-related gaffe and triggers an almighty transatlantic balls-up.
The corrosive dialogue spat out by Malcolm Tucker and co is breathtakingly offensive throughout, and Iannucci deserves much kudos for his demented sense of humour. Even better than the series that preceded it, In The Loop is a savage satirical master-class, buoyed by an array of pitch-perfect performances. It isn’t just the funniest comedy of the year, it’s also one of the best movies. Happily, the fun doesn’t end there either: In The Loop also boasts a genuinely hilarious reel of deleted scenes that are probably the best DVD off-cuts I’ve ever seen. An awesome package.
A movie with an altogether different perception of American foreign policy is Traitor (Momentum), a volatile political thriller that stars Don Cheadle as Samir, a shadowy Arab-American mercenary who turns his back on his US Special Ops background and submerges himself in the explosive world of Islamic terrorism. Post 9/11 thrillers are notoriously awkward beasts, but Traitor injects its shady politics with a welcome dose of Bourne Identity-style action. The underrated Cheadle excels as globe-trotting protagonist Samir, and his intriguing anti-hero is refreshingly unpredictable in a marketplace dominated by two-dimensional heroism. But, as his commitment to the cause grows ever more emphatic, is there any way back for the deeply conflicted Samir? Slick and purposeful, Traitor is a solid political thriller with an impressively murky moral standpoint. Compelling stuff.
Thailand isn’t known for its cinematic clout, but 13: Game of Death (Revolver) is a defiantly weird thriller that could easily achieve crossover DVD success. The narrative concerns Phuchit a hapless salesman whose life goes into financial meltdown when he is fired from his job. However, he quickly finds himself sucked into a bizarre but lucrative game-show that promises huge financial rewards for Phuchit if he passes a series of 13 challenges. After a fairly innocuous start the challenges become increasingly extreme, and Phuchit finds his sanity sorely tested. The movie veers erratically between wacky screwball comedy and deeply disturbing set-pieces, but the sleek, stark direction helps to paper over the cracks. If you can imagine Michael Douglas’ character from Falling Down swapping places with Michael Douglas’ character in The Game you’re in the right ballpark! It may lack the potent charge of a brutally enigmatic classic like Oldboy, but Game of Death offers enough off-kilter thrills to entertain curious viewers.
Inspired by David Peace’s excellent novel about Brian Clough’s brief, ill-judged spell in charge of Leeds United, The Damned United (Sony) is a stylish but ultimately uneven retro drama. Michael Sheen is impressive as the precocious Clough, but the nastiness that undercut Peace’s celebrated novel has been toned down dramatically, and certain sections of the movie are blighted by a weirdly jaunty Brit-com tone. This comedic lightness of touch is at odds with the book’s grim approach and, as a result, the film doesn’t always hit the back of the net. The dour, unforgiving TV serial Red Riding highlighted the inherent difficulty of adapting David Peace’s idiosyncratic meta-fiction for the screen, and The Damned United also struggles to get to grips with the source material.
The ever-versatile Michael Sheen keeps the movie watchable, but unfortunately The Damned United can’t compete with its literary predecessor. That said, it is stylishly pieced together period piece that will appeal to football fans with an appetite for cheeky nostalgia.