His & Hers

Ken Wardrop’s first feature length documentary His & Hers opens with an Irish proverb: “A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.” While this cute aphorism might suggest that the subsequent film will focus on the loving men, the director turns the line on its head and concentrates on the women of his native midlands region and their life-long relationships with the men in their lives. Portarlington-born Wardrop, whose talent as a filmmaker has been obvious since the first short films he made with his producing partner Andrew Freedman, comes to cinematic maturity with this work, as vibrant and life-affirming a film as we are likely to see all year.

The film is deceptively easy to summarise. 70 women, from babes-in-arms to elderly grandmothers, discuss the men in their lives; fathers, boyfriends, husbands, sons and grandsons. Opening with a silent shot of an infant being laid on a blanket, and proceeding sequentially in ascending order of age, the women sit in front of Wardrop’s immobile camera and talk, openly and honestly, about their experiences with the opposite sex. The women remain anonymous and unnamed and the stories they tell are stripped of context, other than what emerges in conversation. But even as they share social and geographical backgrounds, these women are discrete and individual. They might all be talking about the same thing, but the glory in the film is the infinite variety in the way in which the stories are related.

They are sometimes exasperated, sometimes funny and sometimes sweet. As the film progresses and the women grow older, a note of poignancy creeps in, enhanced by the sensitive photography from Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough and Wardrop’s measured editing, which allows each vignette flow seamlessly into the next without ever being distractingly random. The images are beautifully underlined by an unobtrusive, melodic score from composer Denis Clohessy. The stories are connected by the form the film takes, entering the room through doors or staircases, sat on couches or easy chairs, the few exterior shots framed by views from kitchen windows.

His & Hers is not a discussion, or at least not formally. There is no interviewer apparent on the other side of the camera, so there is no further exploration. The film is what it is, a statement, a collection of memories and moments, dreams and desires. Wardrop makes a feature of the restrictiveness of his central conceit, opening up a world of honest emotion from what, in another’s hands, might be nothing more than a series of fireside homilies.

We hear about first loves and marriages, the births of children and the trials of raising noisy, messy sons. There are monologues about the intimacies of marriage, sharing hot water bottles, watching television, domestic routines and quotidian details. The key to happiness, one woman tells us, is separate laundry. There is pride, contentment and, at times, sad regret. The most touching moment arrives with a woman telling the story of how her husband passed away in her arms after a slow dance at a relative’s wedding. You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by it.

Anyone who spends time in the picture house will grow fat and listless on a diet of ersatz emotion. When we are confronted with the real thing, it can be overwhelming but it is invigorating too. This is a special, beguiling film; human and sensitive, delicate and kind. You will walk from the cinema with a smile on your face, and call your mother.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If Nicholas Cage is a little unhinged in Bad Lieutenant, Jake Gyllenhaal is literally climbing the walls as the acrobatic Prince of Persia in The Sands of Time, a breakneck adventure based on the 1990s video game.

Those of you prepared to read beyond the words “based on a video game” won’t be surprised to discover that Prince of Persia isn’t much of a film. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is hoping to establish a new franchise in the vein of his multi-billion dollar Pirate of the Caribbean behemoth, and so fashions an old-fashioned quest from the same popcorn elements; swashbuckling action, bickering lovers, glittering special effects, exotic locations and a dash of the supernatural. It doesn't work.

Gyllenhaal, all hair extensions and enviable abdominals, plays the dashing hero Dastan, a street urchin adopted by the 6th Century Persian King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) and brought to live in his glittering palace. Raised alongside the King’s two princes, firebrand Tus (Richard Coyle) and the more level-headed Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), Dastan spends most of his time climbing walls and jumping over buildings in an ancient approximation of the modern sport of free-running.

When the King’s brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) enlists the princes to lead an army against the city of Alamut, Dastan is determined to prove himself a brave hero and so hares off over the battlements in his inimitable style. In a not-so-subtle Iraq allegory, the city is suspected of hiding weapons of mass destruction but after a thorough search, the armaments cannot be found. Instead, Dastan discovers a magical dagger called The Sands of Time, which, at the press of a ruby button, shifts time backwards by a couple of seconds.

It’s not the kind of implement that will allow you to breakfast with cavemen but the ornamental blade is handy, if like Dastan, you need to sidestep a swooping scimitar, dodge a rain of arrows or what have you. When the king is assassinated with a cloak of fire and Dastan is wrongly accused of the murder, he goes on the run to clear his name. Rather, he goes on the hop, skip and jump. Along for the ride is the vaguely supernatural Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a kind of vestal virgin without the virgin who is charged with protecting the sacred, time-reversing knife. Together they cross the desert, encountering an ostrich-racing Sheik (Alfred Molina), a gang of milky-eyed Hashhashin killers and sundry other ornately-costumed threats.

In an effort to pad out the inherent scrawniness of a script built around a button-bashing game, the writers have thrown together a handful of one-dimensional character types to enact a one-directional quest, scattered with a series of sword-and-sandal clich├ęs. Taken together, this hodgepodge procession of energetic incidents and special effects sequences is supposed to add up to a story, but it never does. Remove the state of the art visual effects and Prince of Persia would be indistinguishable from the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks version of The Thief of Baghdad, albeit without the same measure of charm or daring spectacle.

The direction, from Harry Potter’s Mike Newell, favours exposition over characterisation and feels leaden and perfunctory. The performances are adequate, but no better than that. Gyllenhaal has the physical presence but none of the charisma required. Artherton does better as the spunky princess, but has almost nothing to play against until Molina’s ostrich arrives. Prince of Persia has its moments but they are fleeting, eye-pleasing diversions in a running time that nudges against two hours and feels decidedly longer.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Abel Ferrara’s bleak 1992 cult classic Bad Lieutenant is remade by Werner Herzog under the clumsy title Port of Call: New Orleans, but where the original film was a punishingly grim descent into hell for star Harvey Keitel, this version has Nicholas Cage as the punishingly entertaining Terrence McDonagh, a New Orleans detective addicted to narcotics and gambling.

As the film opens, McDonagh and his partner (played by Val Kilmer) rescue a convict from a jail cell about to be inundated by the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina. Shortly afterwards, the detective, who is covering the pain of a back injury with copious amounts of illegal narcotics, is asked to investigate the bloody murder of a Senegalese family by a gang of drug-dealers, led by the flamboyant Big Fate (Alvin Xzibit Joiner). While he maintains the pretence of his day job, McDonagh is supplying his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) with cocaine, is trying to reconcile his alcoholic father (Tom Bower) with his equally drunk wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and avoiding the increasingly frantic demands of his bookie (Brad Dourif), to whom he owes a lot of money. McDonagh’s transgressions are not limited to inhaling narcotics. He steals whatever he can, shakes down Frankie’s customers for drugs, hallucinates slithering iguanas and the break-dancing souls of the recently deceased and, finally, steps over to the wrong side of the law in making a deal with the smooth Big Fate.

Cage hasn’t been this much fun to watch since the early days of his career, in films like Vampire’s Kiss and Raising Arizona. He is truly off the rails in Bad Lieutenant, bursting with nervous energy, his eyes popping wide, limbs constantly in motion. It helps, of course, that his character really is out of his mind. Herzog directs the performance with consummate facility, allowing his star to run wild and collating the results into a jittery black comedy thriller.

Although Cage maintains his mania throughout, the imbalance his histrionics brings about leads to significant problems in the second half of the film. Having spent considerable time establishing McDonagh’s problems, Herzog resolves them all in one hyper-realistic scene, a rush of conclusions played out with a blankly theatrical flourish. It’s as if the cop’s mounting problems don’t matter, or if they do, they don’t matter to Herzog. The story, from William Finkelstein, is far less important than the performances. No-one else in the cast can match Cage, but it doesn’t matter. His wild, untrammelled act turns the film into a one-man show. Despite these narrative bumps, or perhaps because of them, this version of Bad Lieutenant is a dark and devious delight, an anarchist film noir that seems, at times, almost as unhinged as its protagonist.