Sex, Leins & Videotape #37. Paignton film critic Tom Leins takes a trip into the unknown, with a selection of obscure new DVD releases.
After achieving widespread critical acclaim for 36 Quai Des Orfevres back in 2004, cop-turned-filmmaker Olivier Marchal is back with another powerful police thriller: MR73 (Optimum).
Bleak, gritty and disturbing, MR73 follows the exploits of alcoholic cop Louis Schneider (Daniel Auteuil), a man so tormented by the demons in his past that he drinks himself into oblivion during work hours. Despite his alcoholism, Schneider is still an asset to the corruption-riddled Marseille police department, and his warped insights seem to offer their only chance of catching a prolific serial killer who is raping and mutilating women across the city. As if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, Schneider is forced to confront a dark episode in his past when (allegedly) reformed psychopath Charles Subra is released from prison 25 years after butchering a young couple.
The victims’ daughter Justine (Olivia Bonamy) seeks reassurance from Schneider -the only man who can understand her despair -but can he keep it together long enough to vanquish his demons? From the Leonard Cohen song on the opening credits onwards, MR73 is a thoroughly angst-ridden experience, and recalls the bleak ’70s crime fiction of cult author Derek Raymond. However, despite the harrowing subject matter, MR73 is utterly gripping, and looks set to achieve cult status with discerning crime fans. ‘Cop-on-the-edge’ thrillers are commonplace in Hollywood, but few movies in recent memory have plumbed the depths of despair quite like MR73. In fact, the last performance quite this tortured was Harvey Keitel’s gut-wrenching appearance in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. Make no mistake, MR73 is a murderous master-class in misery.
Newsmakers (Showbox) is a blood-soaked crime thriller about a team of hardened criminals who find themselves holed up in a Moscow tower-block after a violent heist goes pear-shaped. Opening with an extended Wild Bunch-style shoot-out, Newsmakers director Ander Banke sucks you into his uncompromising vision with consummate ease. However, rather than follow a tried-and-trusted narrative curve, Banke grafts on a bizarre reality TV-inspired plot device to keep viewers on their toes. When clips showing the Moscow police force in a less-than-flattering light surface on the daily news ambitious police PR woman Ekaterina Verbitskaya decides to turn the manhunt into a reality TV show, and show up the criminals for the maniacs they are. Unfortunately for her, the criminals are similarly media-savvy and turn the stale-mate into an all-out media war.
Armed to the teeth and unwilling to back down, the situation looks likely to end badly for the inept cops -unless rogue cop Smirnov can infiltrate the tower block and enact his own brand of vengeance! The reality TV aspect of Newsmakers feels slightly stale (indeed, the movie is inspired by Johnnie To’s 2004 Hong Kong action movie Breaking News), but the trigger-happy action sequences are handled with considerable flair by Swedish director Banke (Frostbite). Considering Newsmakers is a remake of a Hong Kong movie, set in Russia, directed by a Swedish filmmaker it feels like an enjoyably Hollywood-esque proposition. Bruce Willis, you suspect, would wholeheartedly approve.
Peter Greenaway has been ploughing his own unique furrow for quite some time now, so it will come as little surprise to film fans that Nightwatching (Axiom) is a typically idiosyncratic offering. Martin Freeman (Tim from The Office) stars as legendary Dutch painter Rembrandt, and Greenaway’s movie examines the creation of The Night Watch -which is arguably the Dutchman’s most famous painting. At length, Greenaway theorizes that the Dutch Master turned a potentially lucrative commission into a subversive manipulation that implicated its numerous subjects in some kind of far-reaching conspiracy. Nightwatching gives Greenaway an epic canvas on which to indulge his preoccupations with artistic composition and graphic nudity, and sure enough, he indulges himself to the hilt.
With frequent digressions on Rembrandt’s sex life, Nightwatching is an arresting visual spectacle, but at 134 minutes long it is a bit of an endurance test. Greenaway’s arguments (however elegantly presented and persuasively stated) are too confusing to be totally entertaining, and for long spells Nightwatching is merely bewildering. Martin Freeman throws himself wholeheartedly into the movie, and is blessed with some enjoyably bawdy dialogue to sink his teeth into, but he can’t gloss over Greenaway’s erratic storytelling. All in all: absolutely bonkers! (Note: Greenaway fans will be happy to hear that Nightwatching is also available as a deluxe two-disc edition, featuring the bonus documentary ‘Rembrandt’s J’Accuse’ in which Greenaway addresses the various mysteries surrounding the painting.)
There’s a thin line between dreamy and dreary, but unfortunately Jim Jarmusch’s new thriller The Limits of Control (Revolver) feels like a bit of a dirge Isaach De Bankole (Ule Matobo in 24 -Season 7) stars as the Lone Man, an enigmatic figure dispatched to Spain to complete a similarly mysterious mission. During his time in Spain he meets up with a succession of strangers, each one of whom provides him with an obscure clue to assist him in his efforts. Over the years Jarmusch has often paid lip service to the influence of the Spanish surrealists on his work, but The Limits of Control feels like a travelogue masquerading as a movie, and offers little of interest for narrative-hungry viewers.
With movies like Dead Man and Broken Flowers, Jarmusch has displayed an enviable knack for quirky, episodic dramas, so it is frustrating to see him sideline his all-star cast (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Bill Murray) with thankless supporting roles. Although De Bankole does little wrong (in fact he does very little at all!) it’s hard not to imagine how the movie might have turned out if Bill Murray’s droll, hangdog expression had taken centre-stage instead. Wong Kar Wai’s long-time cinematographer Christopher Doyle ensures that the visuals are stunning throughout, but The Limits of Control never really gets going, and feels painfully self-indulgent for long periods. Although it pains me to admit it, The Limits of Control is probably the worst movie of Jarmusch’s long and illustrious career. Approach with caution.