It's a good weekend for moviegoing in the UK, starting with the pleasantly surprising revival of Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way (1981). "Much as womanizing slacker Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) finds himself late one evening in a rainy Santa Barbara alleyway at the same time as a silhouetted figure dumps a young woman's body there, Cutter's Way suffered the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," begins Anton Bitel in Little White Lies:
Adapted from Newton Thorburg's 1976 novel Cutter and Bone, Ivan Passer's film was released under the same title, only to receive a critical drubbing, be withdrawn from screens a week later, and then renamed and repackaged for United Artists' arthouse division, and ultimately for VHS (where its reputation really grew). This was the early Eighties, when American cinema, ruled over by Spielberg and Lucas, had become all about action, spectacle and escapism, and the downbeat preoccupations of the previous decade had lost their currency.
Cutter's Way, on the other hand, was pure 70s cinema — all anti-heroic character studies, unresolved narratives, and introspective examinations of the damaged American psyche. No wonder that this moodily subtle neo-noir, released in the same summer as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Escape From New York and Arthur, should fail to capture the public imagination.
In Time Out London, Tom Huddleston agrees that "Cutter's Way feels like a farewell to the 70s: to honest political activism, social responsibility, excessive but essentially good-natured drug and alcohol abuse, Vietnam, California and the young Bridges. His character, Richard Bone, clings to his fading prime the way his best friend and mentor, crippled war veteran Alex Cutter (John Heard) clings to his walking stick. Together, the two men attempt to solve a murder, but that's window dressing: this is a tale of friendship, endurance and loss, and one of the saddest movies ever made."
"The film moves with an easy uncoerced swing," finds the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "moment by moment, scene by scene, we are unsure what to think or where we are going. It is a fascinating, organically grown drama."
Antonia Quirke in the Financial Times: "Sure, it's memorable for the scenes with JB — as a nice, easy-going playboy, smoking and screwing in that Bridgesishly loose-limbed way, skin tanned to a fantastically glowing nutmeg — but Cutter's Way ought to be seen for his co-star John Heard, playing the disabled and furiously alcoholic Vietnam veteran Alex Cutter, ruinously hell-bent on taking his film-noirish revenge on the world. A part originally meant for Dustin Hoffman, Heard incarnates absolute egotism and profound despair. You find yourself simultaneously having to suppress your instinct for pity for his wretched character and trying to focus on what a terrible son-of-a-bitch he is. Heard's career came, went and now simmers — recently he had a small recurring role in CSI Miami. He is one of America's great lost actors."
Back to the Guardian, where Anne Billson agrees that "it's time to give John Heard his due. By the mid-1980s, after starring in a brace of films by Joan Micklin Silver, Paul Schrader's Cat People remake and pulp horror C.H.U.D, he looked all set for leading man status. But it never happened; instead he turned into one of those character actors whose presence never fails to cheer you up." His Alex Cutter "is the sort of avenging obsessive who, by rights, belongs up there in the pantheon alongside Travis Bickle, Sam Quint or Khan Noonien Singh."
At BFI Southbank in London and, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford.
Another revival: Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (1988) is at the Barbican Centre and Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton. Time Out London's David Jenkins wonders how in the world Hollywood plans to pull off a live action remake: "The limitless nature of animation remains purpose-fit for this city-raising futuro-fantasy about a floppy-fringed retinue of cyberpunk bikers and their dealings with a group of telekinetic sages. To cut a long story short, the film places a rivalry between road-racing teenage screw-ups Kaneda and Tetsuo against a Blade Runner-like backdrop of Neo-Tokyo, a city in the midst of a rebuild after the metropolis was nuked at the end of World War III. Satellites are hurled to Earth, scores of foot soldiers are turned into mash and a half-built Olympics stadium acts as a giant bowl for a stomach churning man-machine mutation…. [I]f you haven't seen it, prepare to have your gob well and truly smacked." A bit more from Phelim O'Neill (Guardian, 5/5).
"Countdown to Zero leaves you uneasy enough about the threat from nukes, but also amazed that to date, at least, no blunder has ended in annihilation," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "When Lucy Walker's throat-grabbingly brilliant documentary about nuclear weapons first surfaced last year at the Cannes film festival, it seemed like the best horror film of all time. I spent most of it softly bleating with fear. Walker wakes us up to our willed, consensual torpor about nuclear weapons, and the unexamined post-cold war fiction that they somehow don't matter, that the threat doesn't exist and that worrying about it is passe. On the contrary, Walker makes a stomach-churningly plausible case that a nuclear explosion could still be caused by terrorists or rogue states with stolen material, or by an old-fashioned Strangelove cock-up." More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London, 4/5; he also interviews Walker), Jonathan Crocker (Little White Lies) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 2/5).
"Denis Villeneuve's impassioned yet decorous adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad's award-winning stage play sees a dead woman bequeath her children a mystery, which in turn unlocks the secrets of her past and ultimately theirs," writes Emma Simmonds at the Arts Desk. "The Oscar-nominated Incendies is an arresting and satisfying fusion of political thriller and family drama." Roger Clarke for Sight & Sound, where Tom Dawson interviews Villeneuve: "Incendies may cover similar literal territory to Samuel Maoz's 2009 Golden Lion-winner Lebanon, but there's also a sense of almost trashy, coincidence-based melodrama at work here that's not usually seen in sombre, sectarian-issue dramas of this kind. The extraordinary thing is that it works. Like Lebanon, it has its roots in that country's 1980s conflict between Christian and Muslim militias, but where Lebanon toils in the noise and darkness of a tank in battle, Incendies unfolds mainly in the quiet of offices and homes where family relationships break down under intolerable strain." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), David Jenkins (Time Out London, 3/5), Anthony Quinn (Independent, 4/5) and Josh Winning (Little White Lies).
Justin Chadwick's The First Grader also opens this weekend; Peter Bradshaw and Dave Calhoun both give it 2 out of 5 stars and both make use of the word "hackneyed." Djo Munga's Viva Riva! fares better: 3 out of 5 from both Andrew Pulver (Guardian) and Dave Calhoun.