Film Review: Almodovar’s I’m So Excited!

FILM
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Two stars

BEFORE his international breakthrough All About My Mother (1999), Pedro Almodovar specialised in anarchic, breathless high camp. I’m So Excited! channels the screwball spirit of earlier films such as Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown and Labyrinth. It’s a world away from 2011’s dark psychological thriller The Skin I Live In.

Never before has the word “romp” been more aptly applied to a film. On a plane from Spain to Mexico, everyone’s at it. Young people have sex. Old people have sex. Even asleep people have sex. By the end, the cabin crew, the passengers, the pilot and co-pilot have all submitted a joint application to the mile high club.

The world has changed since Almodovar started doing this stuff 20 years ago. With a world of pornography only a click away, light smut feels blunt as an instrument of satire or social commentary. I’m So Excited! has the feel of a dirty seaside resort postcard: lewd and tame at the same time.

There are joyous moments. A surprise musical sequence in which the flight attendants mime and a dance along to the Pointer Sisters’ song (of the film’s title) is performed with strutting gusto. It also provides some welcome respite from the relentless barrage of nudges and winks. It looks great too. From the crimson lipstick of the high class escort to the bubblegum blue of the airport uniforms, I’m So Excited! is packaged with characteristic Almodovar vividness.

But this has the feel of a vanity project. Radically different from anything he had done before, The Skin I Live In showed a commendable willingness to take risks. I’m So Excited! seems motivated by nostalgia. The result is a throwaway airborne farce that never really gets off the ground.

THEATRE
l0 PLAGUES Wilton’s Music Hall
Three stars

SOFT Cell lead singer Marc Almond shows us a very different set of skills in this two-man song cycle based on the great plague of London. The production, which incorporates projection art, has strong echoes of the fear of HIV in the 80s. It has the melodramatic flair of a Derek Jarman movie, but even with a 60 minute running time it’s heavy going.

FILM
21 AND OVER
Cert 15 | By Charlie McCann
Two stars

THE Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore made their names as purveyors of boisterously crass comedy. They return as directors with 21 And Over. Not much has changed. Like The Hangover, 21 and Over is a buddy film centreing on the delights and horrors of alcohol consumption. Beer is free flowing, wild animals are let loose, and the birthday boy vomits violently while riding a mechanical bull.

The newly-minted 21 year olds of the film’s title may be a couple of decades younger than their hungover counterparts, but switch Vegas for Seattle and plush casinos for a generic US College and they’re virtually the same film.

Friends Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) arrive one afternoon to surprise their best friend Jeff (Justin Chon) for his 21st birthday. Casey and Miller are dismayed when Jeff informs them that a medical school interview at eight am the next morning rules out any debauchery. Party animal Miller is not the type to take no for an answer. His persuasive skills convince Jeff to come out for his first legal drink. One celebratory shot becomes several and soon enough, Jeff is comatose. Casey and Miller have to figure out how to get Jeff back home in time for his all-important interview.

There is the occasional decent line. The jokes could be charmingly self-aware. Chon’s antics as the maniacally drunk Jeff are hilarious (about two-thirds of the way through their bar-crawl, Jeff is so drunk he starts chucking his ID at bouncers).

Perhaps it would be funnier in the company of a couple of pals and beers (Budweiser, please). If you should be in short supply of either, you’re just as well served by watching the trailer.

FILM
ALL STARS
Cert U | Charlie McCann
Four stars

MOST street dance films follow a well-established plot arc: improbably gifted dancers masquerading as social misfits are brought together as if by happenstance. Next thing you know, they’ve vowed to trounce opposing dance crews to win in the “ultimate dance-off”. Then a precocious member of the crew walks out. But not to worry! All it takes is a glum montage scene to get them to return sheepishly to the fold— just in time for the competition.

It’s a tired genre, but director Ben Gregor’s light touch is reinvigorating. Rather than casting a bunch of muscly adults to play characters half their age, Gregor focuses on school-age children. Jaden (Akai Osei-Mansfield) convinces the reluctant Ethan (Theo Stevenson) to help organise a dance show to save their struggling East London youth centre. With Jaden’s street dance skills and Ethan’s pluck, they assemble and train an unlikely crew just in time for the big day.

This is reasonably bold stuff for a kid’s film. The writers have wisely thrown in some lines sure to tickle parents. In an explanation to a friend wondering about the Pac-Man-esque video game he taps away at on his mobile, Ethan reassures him, “It’s retro. It’s from WWII before they had phones.” The script might make you feel old, but the dancing will make you feel young.

ART
ELLEN GALLAGHER: AXME
Tate Modern | By Alex Dymoke
Four stars

BIRD In Hand (pictured), a painting by American artist Ellen Gallagher, features a one legged figure with hair that swirls out into what looks like a chaotic knot of branches. Look a little closer and you see it’s a maze of intricately drawn animals, objects and body parts. It’s a fitting metaphor for the entire retrospective. Gallagher's imagination abounds and overflows, rockets skywards and falls back to earth as well-considered, socially conscious artworks. From far away, they are unruly and abstract. Up close they are threaded through with figurative detail.

This is true of the early paintings that helped make her name in the 90s. She scores the canvas with row upon row of tiny disembodied lips and eyes inspired by minstrelsy caricatures. Other highlights include beautifully distorted projected images from old horror-movies, massive enigmatic “black paintings” and the collages of magazine pages saturated in deep blue ink. All the work is linked by a preoccupation with black social history. However, her output is so abundant, diverse and playful that it never feels heavy-handed or excessively moralistic.

FILM
DEAD MAN DOWN
Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Two stars

THIS dreary, laughably serious film about revenge is set in a nameless American city of run-down apartment blocks, empty car-parks and abandoned warehouses. Roving this no-man’s land are various criminal gangs, most of which are divided according to nationality. There are “the Jamaicans”, “the Albanians”, “the Hungarians” and – inexplicably – “the English”. It’s a gangland world cup, and Alphonse and his band of swarthy beer swilling chums desperately want to win. Trouble is, Alphonse did a bad thing in the past and now victor (Colin Farrell pictured) wants to murder him. For some reason Victor needs to infiltrate his gang in order to do so, even though Alphonse spends most of his time brazenly walking the streets of this seemingly un-policed city.

Farrell does the whole brooding, axe to grind thing well. However, the absurd plot demands bizarre and irrational behaviour from the characters.

Dominic Cooper, complete with comedy faltering American accent, gives the worst performance of his career. You’ll be gunning for revenge if you pay to see this.