April 25, 2013 6:07 pm

Cinema reviews: The Look of Love, Iron Man 3, In the Fog and more

Steve Coogan plays pornographer and property magnate Paul Raymond; Robert Downey Jr has a ball in Iron Man 3; an epic story of partisans in the Russian forests
From left, Chris Addison, Imogen Poots and Steve Coogan in ‘The Look of Love’

From left, Chris Addison, Imogen Poots and Steve Coogan in ‘The Look of Love’

The Look of Love was originally going to be called The King of Soho, but since the son of the King of Soho himself – pornographer and property magnate Paul Raymond – threatened legal action, it declined to its more unprepossessing title. The softer name suits: it’s a minor film. Director Michael Winterbottom’s fourth collaboration with Steve Coogan, this follows Raymond’s progress as strip-club baron and erotic magazine millionaire from the 1960s through to the 1990s.

Steve Coogan as Raymond is always companionable and bumbling and essentially unflappable, even when doing horrible things like abandoning his long-suffering wife (an excellent Anna Friel, brisk and refreshing, a petite actress who does everything from a great height) without breaking sweat. Coogan’s extreme side parting and half-smiling manner have more than a touch of his comic character Alan Partridge. “Say what you like about [child-murderer] Myra Hindley,” claims Raymond, très Alan, “she was a looker.” How like or unlike the real Raymond is he even trying to be? Since Coogan’s persona is a reality he has very carefully set up, it’s impossible to say, and it doesn’t actually matter. The role itself is just a portrait, a sketch, not quite complete.

I met Raymond several times as a very green young reporter working for a local London paper and can only remember his aura of shady enterprises and clip-on Lego hair – a yellowing enormo-bouffant – that acted as a kind of centripetal force, sucking all the focus in the room. The man was famously proud of Soho, half of which he owned and which now belongs to his granddaughters. He is seen in the movie gladhanding locals at the Coach and Horses pub or surrounded by working girls with shampoos and sets in his revue bar, or lavishing bonhomie on some dolled-up sweetie in his OTT apartment.

Some of these moments have a nice, properly dropped-in-on quality. Winterbottom has always had the innate knack of knowing precisely how long scenes ought to be. Raymond is ever the centre of the party, which of course is the appeal of the project in the first place: the party animal milieu is intrinsically fascinating to film-makers and actors, especially when the party animal remains magically, Cooganishly likeable even when chopping out lines of cocaine for his champagne-soaked dreamer of a troubled daughter (a staggeringly brilliant – when isn’t she? – Imogen Poots) while she is actually at hospital giving birth.

So, the film moves from the jolly, various, all-natural breasts of the Sixties to the spray-tanned silicone bazookas and all-off waxes of the Eighties (if the film makes you feel sad about anything, it’s this) and roams particularly appreciatively all over the body of Raymond’s lover, played by the 24-year-old tightrope-lean sensualist and unbelievable sexpot Tamsin Egerton, aka the British Bo Derek. And you can’t help thinking, at the risk of sounding like a prude – something a film like this rather aggressively challenges you not to be – that it’s all basically a way of getting some exceptionally nice knockers onto the screen.

And there are so many of them here. These girls may be standing with their bottoms out in a scene in which Coogan is looking pointedly bored and talking in a mundane way about the weather – they are ostensibly being filmed at an ironic distance – but their nudity is still the most important thing in the scene. And isn’t that one of the cheapest jokes there is? Isn’t that so very British? That age-old, Carry On -ish juxtaposition of mundanity with the erotic. The Benny Hill imperative.

The new instalment in the children’s action franchise Iron Man 3 is manic – far less po-faced anyway than the forthcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel promises to be (have you seen the trailer for that? Kevin Costner looking melancholy by a truck). The almost unconscionable success of Avengers Assemble (it grossed more than $1.5bn worldwide) set the bar tonally for the superhero matinee flick: an extreme excess of jivey in-jokes and actors completely revelling in the part, not just on screen but, crucially, on the red carpet before premieres. You can’t have missed Robert Downey Jr’s high-coloured shoes and goofball specs touring the world promoting this.

More than with Thor or Spider-Man or Batman or any of the others, what holds the superhero Iron Man together is not just Downey Jr’s outsized charisma, but the way he clearly revels in his own success and talent, both on screen and off. There are scenes in this movie where the director just stands back and lets Downey Jr show off – here a little dance, there a rat-tat-tat monologue, all manner of piquant or mendacious little routines. The rest – bar a witty twist involving an unusually game Ben Kingsley – is just things blowing up, a great big endless boring noisy confusing nothingness given occasional zip by Gwyneth Paltrow in a temper. She plays Iron Man’s girlfriend, but is always stomping to bed or out of it in a fury with him. Few actresses do female rectitude quite like Gwyneth.

Russian director Sergei Loznitsa’s war story In the Fog was admired at Cannes last year. Set on the German-occupied USSR frontier in 1942 and following a group of local partisans in the forests, it has no military action as such – it’s no Come and See, with that film’s unforgettably brutal, nightmarish tug. This film is more interested in quieter treacheries and betrayals; we go deep into the forest, which seems vast and mythically ever-spreading. Though he is more often a documentary maker, In the Fog marks a profound shift for Loznitsa: there is nothing ad hoc or casual here. Still and epic – and sometimes perhaps a little too festering and chilly – the film’s final moments could easily take place on a stage.

White Elephant
is the name of a ruin in Buenos Aires, now the centre of a slum occupied by 30,000 poor and homeless, where drug dealers recruit and control, and social workers and Catholic priests (dog collars undone in the heat, chainsmoking) go about trying to galvanise community groups. It’s a violent film, melodramatic, garment-rending: funerals in the driving rain accompanied by guns and hysterical weeping; bodies in wheelbarrows purple-swollen in the heat; an ordination barbecue turns into a drug lords party with stray dogs begging for sausages. The film tries to do too much and its power is on a sliding scale downward, but at times it is ultra-vivid.

Jack Black plays Bernie, a real-life Texan mortician, song-and-dance fan and beloved local hero, who, in a moment of madness, shot the most wealthy but least popular woman in town. Richard Linklater directs with cheerful oomph (you can feel his grin) and actors mix with real townsfolk to tell the tale. Almost vaudeville in spirit, it delights in American social clichés and kinks.

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