Friday 15 December 2017

Movie reviews: Cobain Montage of Heck, John Wick and Force Majeure

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain with their daughter Frances Bean Cobain
Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain with their daughter Frances Bean Cobain
John Wick
Force Majeure

Cobain gets five stars, while Keanu Reeves fares less well in a revenge thriller

Cobain: Montage  of Heck

(Documentary, starring Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Wendy O'Connor, Courtney Love, Kim Cobain, Frances Bean Cobain. Dir: Brett Morgen. Cert 16)

Given that Nirvana's career lasted about a half-decade in all, it's not hard to conclude that Kurt Cobain is probably more potent, bankable and iconic in death than in life.

He memorably took his life in April 1994, leaving behind a small but fully formed catalogue of music: music that had fresh, terrible meaning breathed into it anew after his death. He left a legion of fans bereft that year, and I was among their teary, near-hysterical number.

Fast-forward via time's giant wheel to the present day and revisiting Nirvana as a 30-something is a fairly brain-bending experience, to put it mildly.

Nirvana's story is, by now, a careworn one. Fans know the drill inside out: the Geffen signing, the infamous Reading Festival appearance, the Rohypnol overdose in Rome a month before Cobain's death at the age of 27. But the story hasn't been told quite like this.

With Cobain's daughter Frances Bean on board as executive producer, Brett Morgen has been granted access to a mind-boggling archive of material. Crystal-clear home videos from Cobain's childhood, drawings, diaries and home recordings from Cobain's final years create an incredible, vivid, searing narrative.

We listen as Cobain's mother Wendy recalls how she cried as soon as she heard the master tapes for Nevermind: not out of pride or happiness, but out of sheer fear for her tender, sensitive son.

"I was so glad that I wasn't born with the 'genius' brain," reflects Cobain's sister, Kim, before Cobain: Montage of Heck explodes into life to the strains of Territorial P**sings. And so, we start our tale in Aberdeen, where Cobain is a flaxen-haired and blue-eyed cherub.

Slowly, he morphs from a hyperactive youngster to a disenfranchised pre-teen to a feckless, pot-smoking teenager. He falls in love with punk music. We know the rest. This time around however, we watch from the inner sanctum.

Ultimately, Montage of Heck depicts Nirvana less as myth-makers or messiahs and more as three normal and unassuming jokesters who, whether by accident or design, kicked a socio-cultural hornet's nest.

What's so easy to forget was that Cobain and his band of merryish men were actually quite funny and mischievous. Suddenly saddled with the 'spokesman for a generation' tag, the home-video footage captures Cobain as he evades the press and takes the mick out of MTV presenters clearly in thrall to him.

His reaction is not unlike someone quietly watching a horror unfold after pulling a pin from a grenade. As viewing experiences go, it's an uncomfortable one.

Running in tandem with Nirvana's accidental world domination was Cobain's apparent discovery of domestic bliss with his wife, Courtney Love, and baby daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. That picture of marital harmony has been turned over time and time again in the years since, but here, the camera doesn't lie.

Cobain and Love gurn at the camera like love-sick teenagers and positively smother their child in squeaks, squeals, smiles, cuddles and affection.

Cobain's on-camera admissions that he was deathly afraid of losing his tight-knit family is, with the benefit of hindsight, all the more poignant.

There's no doubting that for Nirvana fans, Cobain: Montage of Heck is a massively gratifying experience. But what about everyone else?

Morgen has clearly mounted a quest to make the definitive Cobain documentary, and there is so much material to drink in here. Running at over two hours long, it's certainly an exhaustive account of Cobain's life. The film comes to a very deliberate halt as the account of Cobain's life comes to an end.

Cobain's death is relayed as a post-script, with a single black card. The hysteria that followed April 2014 is, in this case, not for purpose.

By turns compelling and affecting, Cobain: Montage of Heck allows cinema-goers an opportunity to enjoy and be entranced by Nirvana all over again.

Whether you were a die-hard fan or a bystander watching the Nirvana saga unfold at a remove, this HBO documentary will shake you to your ribcage.

But back in the day, Nirvana's spectacular rise and fall made me, and thanks to this film, it may well end up making you, too.

Rating *****

John Wick

(Action/thriller, starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan. Dir: Chad Stahelski/David Leitch. Cert: 16) 

Of all the A-listers I was hoping would stage a McConnaissance-style career revival, Keanu Reeves was top of my list. For now, however, that leap remains at large.

Hot on the heels of the rather shoddy 47 Ronin comes this slick, high-octane shoot out. Reeves stars as John Wick, a widower who inherits a puppy posthumously from his wife. No, bear with me...

After meeting a trio of Russian gang members at a filling station, the three follow John home, killing Daisy the dog and stealing his car. Alas, the trio tangled with the wrong dog owner, because, for all his unassuming manner, John Wick is known as a lethal assassin. And now, he is forced back into the seamy underworld he left behind years ago. Sound familiar? It should do: it's a narrative as old as the proverbial hills.

Yet, what John Wick lacks in plot innovation (and a decent script), it easily makes up for in aesthetics. It transpires that directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch were Reeves' stunt doubles on The Matrix. It explains a lot, and the two are certainly versed in the visual language of a good blockbuster.

All in all, John Wick is an enjoyable enough cinematic romp. It's not a classic of the form by any means, but with a decent handful of action sequences peppered throughout, the audience will forgive it that.

Rating ***

Force Majeure

(Drama, starring Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju. Dir: Ruben Ostlund. Cert: 15A)

Swedish film Force Majeure has amassed accolades and awards aplenty at festivals and award ceremonies alike, and with good reason.

Centring on a couple as they take their young children on a skiing trip to the French Alps, the film starts innocently enough, ticking to the banal rhythms of a family holiday.

The plot thickens significantly and satisfyingly within a split moment as Tomas (Kuhnke) and his wife Ebba (Kongsli) watch a 'controlled' avalanche careen towards them. Things start to look a little uncontrolled, forcing Tomas to pick up his iPhone and sunglasses and run full-pelt from his helpless young family. Naturally, his actions cause some fairly seismic shockwaves.

Force Majeure is sumptuously shot (the French Alps providing an embarrassment of riches in terms of scenery). But it's a still and tonally cool film that sometimes achieves nothing more than driving home the sheer drudgery of family holidays.

Force Majeure could have benefited greatly from another go-around in the editing suite… but as it's hinged on such a delicious and intriguing premise, it's well worth a watch.

Rating ***

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