Monday, February 04, 2013

Curling King/ Gimme the Loot

Curling King (Kong Curling) (Ole Endresen - Norway) 90 minutes

When a team of Scottish ladies were winning gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, the Guardian dispatched a reporter to a number of Glasgow pubs to test the public level of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, few Weegies cared much for the achievements of the Olympians from the Lowlands, one person opining from his barstool: ‘Curling? Sure that’s just ice-skating for ugly people!’ It was both cruel and rude but made me laugh out loud when I read it. It seemed apt about curling, a rink sport that is both dynamic and inert and indelibly imbued with ink-black weeknights in chilly northern hemisphere provinces. Curling has an image problem but it doesn’t care.

So curling, then, is ripe for comedy. The Canadians, who are the Brazil of the sport, passed up the opportunity a couple of years back, instead turning out the quietly impressive Quebecois thriller named, simply, Curling. So it was up to Norway (men’s gold medallists at Salt Lake) to fashion curling into something comic. It’s a film that’s formulaic and occasionally annoying but endearing enough.

Atle Antonsen plays Truls Pålsen, the hot-shot captain of a local curling team, raised after his parents’ death by a gruff old curling coach. After suffering a nervous breakdown he is forced to give up the game but is coaxed back out of retirement by his former teammates to help win the local league. Curling King has its coat resting on many hooks, most of them Hollywood comedies — the most obvious references being The Big Lebowski and Kingpin. But Ole Endresen’s film has neither the Coens’ savvy nor the Farrellys’ ill-mannered rigour, while all the time wanting to siphon off the energy of each. European popular cinema is, as of yet, not quite homogenised but its vision is increasingly so. That vision is, these days, is almost exclusively concerned with Hollywood. In Curling King's case there’s nothing wrong with that — vulgar comedy is one of the things the studios do best these days.

Curling King seems very contrived in comparison though, with even its more egregious moments of dumbness relying on the echo of something it would dearly love to be. Having said that, it is not completely irredeemable. The film, however signposted its visual design might be, has a good feel for visual comedy (and I suspect its broad portraits of Lillehammer provincials would resonate greatly with Norwegian audiences). I laughed aloud at least half a dozen times (which is better than it sounds) and the audience I saw it with did so a bit more than that. All of which renders the foregoing criticism moot indeed. A film that will live on in post-pub or stoner entertainment without dazzling anyone, providing enough laughs to win one Winter Olympic discipline some unexpected new fans.

Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon - USA) 81 minutes

One of the world’s most-filmed cities, New York has enjoyed a new shot of freshness from its local independent cinema in recent years, much of it put together by one group of friends. Among the gems are Joshua Safdie’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed, Daddy Longlegs (which he co-directed with his brother Ben) and Frownland (directed by Daddy Longlegs ‘star’ Ronald Bronstein). The latest film from this ‘stable’ is Gimme the Loot, directed by Adam Leon, which is a wonderfully charming slice of Manhattan life as well as a extremely accomplished low-budget debut.

The film starts with footage from an early-90s public access-TV programme where a couple of New York taggers talk about a failed effort to tag the New York Mets’ home-run apple at Shea Stadium. The  apple becomes the holy grail of taggers and two decades later a pair of teenagers resolve to finally accomplish the act, after one of their creations gets messed up by a Queens crew using the apple as a calling card.

The problem for Sofia and Malcolm (brilliantly played by Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson respectively) is they need to pay off the Shea Stadium janitor to get in and do the job before anyone arrives. They are broke so they embark on a trek across Manhattan to try and raise the loot, selling stolen spray-cans, collecting debts, and ripping off drug-dealers. Malcolm also plans to steal jewellery off a rich uptown girl he sells weed to but he needs to break into her apartment while she is out. The film is almost a caper, tinged with a certain degree of menace. It never gets dark — even the more threatening characters are cuddly in a way — and the teenage heroes are duckers and divers learning on the hoof more than hardened delinquents. They live by their wits though they don’t exactly thrive by them.

Gimme the Loot makes no great claims for itself other than its assured understanding of the rhythms and wit of the street. It’s a film that doesn’t need to cast its net far or wide for the punchy little drama it relates, and it is both smart and droll, with some great music thrown into the mix. A great New York counterpart to the fine low-budget Paris film Rengaine from last year, Gimme the Loot deserves a wide audience and Adam Leon and his various cast members are worth keeping an eye on.