Sex, Leins & Videotape #44. Paignton film critic Tom Leins takes a walk on the wild side with this week’s DVD reviews.
Director Jacques Audiard won widespread plaudits for his previous feature, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and A Prophet has seen his critical stock rise dramatically. It tells the story of uneducated petty criminal Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) who is sent down for a six year stretch in a tough French prison. With no friends or contacts inside, Malik finds himself marginalised by the strong alliances that dominate the prison yard. Despite keeping his head down, Malik soon attracts the unwanted attentions of Cesar Luciano (Niels Arestrup), a notorious Corsican mobster who rules the prison from within. Cesar offers Malik protection in exchange for killing a fellow Arab prisoner for him, and the reluctant convict obliges. After winning Cesar’s trust, Malik insinuates himself into the Corsican ‘family’, and gradually takes on more and more prominence as Cesar’s henchmen are repatriated to prisons closer to home.
Happy with Malik’s progress, Cesar calls in a favour with the prison authorities, and Malik is granted a series of ‘day release’ passes. On the outside he is committed to doing Cesar’s bidding for him, but Malik also has business of his own to attend to, and builds his own power base – putting him at loggerheads with the increasingly paranoid Cesar. As the drama unfolds, Malik is haunted by visions of the man he murdered, and although these magical realist interludes seem ill-at-ease with the gritty realist plot, they give the proceedings an undeniably intriguing edge. Brutal and gripping throughout, A Prophet is a thrilling example of an acclaimed movie justifying its hype. More of an old-fashioned gangster fable than a conventional prison thriller, A Prophet is an enjoyably subversive spin on genre filmmaking and consolidates Audiard’s burgeoning reputation. Heavily recommended.
Back onscreen for the first time since 2002’s Signs, Edge of Darkness (Icon) sees Mel Gibson star as tormented Boston cop Thomas Craven. When his estranged daughter is gunned down on his doorstep, the world-weary cop launches his own investigation into the vicious murder. However, Craven quickly discovers that her murder was not a case of mistaken identity, but a labyrinthine conspiracy which seemingly leads back to the nuclear research station where his daughter worked as a trainee. Based on the 1980s BBC TV series of the same name, Edge of Darkness is a convoluted thriller that lurches between brutal action and shadowy intrigue. That said, after a strangely sluggish opening, Edge of Darkness picks up the pace in the second half, and Gibson’s investigation turns into more of a vendetta.
Despite a smart, quick-witted script from The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, Edge of Darkness has a weirdly illogical narrative -a feeling which is only intensified by Ray Winstone’s character Darius Jedburgh. Winstone is brutally charismatic as the shadowy CIA fixer, but his intermittent role in proceedings is too ambiguous for comfort and feels tacked on. When director Martin Campbell cuts loose and injects a dose of adrenaline into proceedings, Edge of Darkness hits pay-dirt, but all too often it lacks the propulsive element of the director’s peerless Casino Royale. In conclusion: Edge of Darkness is a seriously uneven movie, but there are more than enough thrilling moments to keep you entertained.
Few bands lend themselves to exhaustive scrutiny quite like the Rolling Stones, and the latest documentary to examine the band’s unique mystique is Stones In Exile (Eagle Vision). In the Spring of 1971 the Rolling Stones quit Britain and moved to France as tax exiles. Installed in Nellcote, a sprawling villa in the South of France, the band started work on a ramshackle new record that would evolve into the seminal Exile on Main St. Dismissed by critics upon its initial release, only to rapidly gain kudos in the ensuing years, Exile on Main St is now revered as one of the band’s finest albums, and the story of its genesis is equally compelling. Directed by Stephen Kijak -the man previously responsible for the off-kilter Scott Walker documentary 30 Century Man -Stones In Exile is an engaging patchwork quilt of a film that artfully blends the Stones’ own reminiscences with cool archive photography and video footage. There are also a selection of talking heads from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Jack White (White Stripes) and Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon), although the latter two seem confused rather than informative.
Unfortunately, the documentary glosses over some of the more unsavoury aspects of the album’s recording, omitting two of the most notorious stories. So, if you are expecting to hear graphic accounts about Keith Richards and the near-debilitating smack addiction that left him barely able to function for long periods, then you might end up disappointed. (Similarly ignored is the story that Villa Nellcote was a former Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi occupation, and the basement recording studio was reportedly still adorned with Swastikas.) However, considering the band themselves acted as executive producers, it’s no surprise that Mick ‘n’ Keef have tweaked history into a comparatively sanitised account of their experiences in France. All in all, an enjoyable documentary that offers tantalising glimpses of the Stones’ remarkable English Voodoo.
From the makers of cult thriller The Machine Girl, Robo-Geisha (Cine Asia) is a twisted action movie about a group of megalomaniac Japanese businessmen who plan to take over the world by using a posse of surgically altered Geishas! However, their malevolent scheme hits the skids when one of their Robo-Geishas develops a conscience, and refuses to participate in the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians. As you might expect, this leads to a violent showdown between the Robo-Geishas, and their eye-opening arsenals of machine-gun breasts, napalm wigs and butt-blades are pushed to the fore.
Unfortunately, what could have been a zany guilty pleasure is actually twee and puerile in equal measure, and Robo-Geisha never feels entertaining enough to justify going along for the ride. Suffice to say, anyone whose idea of extreme Asian filmmaking encompasses the transgressive work of Takashi Miike will be sorely disappointed by this hopelessly cartoon-ish offering. While there is enough gloopy blood-loss to appease horror fans, Robo-Geisha is ultimately too disposable to take seriously. (That said, if Robo-Geisha’s bloodthirsty inventiveness has piqued your interest, why not check out the superior Machine Girl, which was released last year.)