When You're Strange, Tom DiCillo, 90 mins (15)
Skeletons, Nick Whitfield, 96 mins (15)
Morrison's tragic figure transcends all the pretentious posturings
Sunday 04 July 2010
In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that the Doors were my favourite band as a teenager, which is another way of saying that, if I'm honest, they're my favourite band now.
I use the word "confess", because the Doors aren't terribly fashionable at the moment: any mention of them on a website is appended by a phone book of user comments dismissing Jim Morrison as a pretentious drunk – as if that were a black mark for a Sixties rock star.
Tom DiCillo's new documentary, When You're Strange: A Film about the Doors, won't convert anyone who's made up their mind already. If you roll your eyes at Morrison's shamanic posturings – or, more likely, at Val Kilmer's in the Oliver Stone biopic – then your misgivings won't be overcome by hearing Johnny Depp's sleepy-voiced narration revere the leather-trousered one as "dangerous and highly intelligent ... his soul trapped between Heaven and Hell". But if you're on the fence, then When You're Strange might convince you to download a track or two.
If nothing else, it emphasises just how young Morrison and his cohorts were (and for all its frontman-worship, it gives the band's three excellent musicians their due), as well as the dizzying speed of their rise and fall. In 1966, they were playing in Los Angeles clubs. In 1967, they had a No 1 single. In 1968, they were filling stadiums, supported by The Who. And in 1969, Morrison was sentenced to four months' hard labour, a sentence that was still hanging over him, pending appeal, when he died in 1971, aged 27. Significantly, he didn't earn his jail term by vandalising hotel rooms or carrying drugs, as wannabes from Sid Vicious to Pete Doherty have done ever since, but simply by saying the wrong things, in the wrong tone, during the group's concerts. Anyone who thinks that rock'n'roll was never anything other than harmless fun should see Morrison on stage surrounded by uniformed policemen who punch and kick him to the floor when he gets too confrontational.
Doing without the perspective that might have come from new interviews or talking heads, DiCillo has pulled together an amazing amount of archive footage, and written a brisk chronology of the band for Depp to recite over the top. He never gets beneath the skin of his subjects, but a tragic picture emerges of Morrison as a restless, conflicted, and, yes, highly intelligent malcontent. If he was sometimes as ridiculous as his detractors claim, he was as keenly aware of it as anyone.
The worthy winner of the Best British Film prize at this year's Edinburgh Film Festival, Skeletons is a surreal comedy which could be compared to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Christopher Nolan's forthcoming Inception, but which is too distinctive and original for any such namechecking to be very useful. Its rumpled heroes, Bennett (Andrew Buckley, right) and Davis (Ed Gaughan), are in the business of yanking skeletons from people's closets. Dressed in baggy black suits, and with battered leather briefcases, they tramp through the countryside until they arrive at the house of their next clients. Once those clients have filled in a baroque release form ("Have you ever assisted in an amputation? Have you ever seen a bear?"), Bennett and Davis project themselves into their customers' memories and return with the dark secrets they've hidden even from themselves.
Nick Whitfield, the first-time writer-director, establishes an inviting netherworld, somewhere between weird, metaphysical science-fiction and frayed, provincial ordinariness. Skeletons has its own off-kilter setting – a blend of the 1940s, the 1970s and the present day – and its own evocative jargon: one careless colleague "ended up going Bulgarian". But it's up to us to make sense of it all. There aren't any speeches explaining how the "Procedure" works, or what seeing a bear has to do with anything. It's an intoxicating pleasure, but some viewers may be disorientated towards the end, when the film's obliqueness overwhelms the plot and characters. On the other hand, all the questions which Skeletons leaves unanswered could make it the perfect pilot for a Saturday evening TV series. Any channel that wants to compete with Doctor Who should open the bidding now.
Nicholas Barber sees the return of aliens (Predators), vampires (Twilight Eclipse) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Leaving)
Also Showing: 04/07/2010
Heartbreaker (100 mins, PG)
A hit French comedy that's bound to be remade in Hollywood, Heartbreaker stars Romain Duris as a professional smoothie who's paid by Vanessa Paradis's father to charm her away from her fiancé, Andrew Lincoln. It's a slick, pacey combination of rom-com and heist caper, especially in a flawless opening sequence which reveals the sophistication of Duris's relationship-busting operation. It stumbles later on, though. I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that, for the film to work, the audience has to decide that Paradis and Duris are a better match than Paradis and Lincoln. Yet Heartbreaker offers no reason why anyone would want to separate such an apparently happy couple.
Shrek Forever After (93 mins, U)
The fourth – and, we're promised, final – Shrek film is a major improvement on the third, not that anyone but DreamWorks' accountants ever thought the first one needed any sequels. Paying homage to It's A Wonderful Life, it has the titular ogre (Mike Myers, at his least engaging) signing a contract with Rumpelstiltskin without checking the small print, and being whisked into an alternate reality where he was never born. Eddie Murphy's Donkey is the high point, as ever. The low point is the script's preoccupation with the travails of fatherhood, which will be bafflingly irrelevant to its target audience.
Lymelife (93 mins, 15)
Alec Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon and Timothy Hutton waste their time on this plodding indie drama, in which some unlikeable suburbanites and their offspring feel sorry for themselves in the early 1980s. The Ice Storm and American Beauty, among others, aired similar grievances more cogently.
Gay Sex in the 70s (71 mins, 18)
Reminiscences of homosexual hedonism in pre-Aids NYC: a documentary that does what it says on the tin.
The Ballroom (95 mins, 15)
Brazilian version of familiar strangers-find-happiness-via-dance-class film.
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