"Control" looks back at the short dark days of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
There is no joy in the mix.
Rock photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn took some of the last shots of a brooding Curtis in the days before committed suicide in 1980, but says he didn't really know the singer or worship him.
"He's a bit of a bastard in the film," Corbijn says in the DVD release's commentary. "But he's still a person."
The first-time director decided he didn't want to make a biopic, a "rock film" or a backstage drama focusing on the Manchester, England, band (which morphed into the more successful New Order).
Instead, Corbijn made a moody, mopey, meditative study of "this one guy who's a poet." The young man is wracked by epilepsy and punished by the drugs used to control his fits. He's point man in a love triangle, which brings guilt and confusion, no pleasure. Nor does his rising star in the post-punk rock world. The result is a couple of bleak rock classics, such as "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
The movie's high-contrast black and white cinematography (think "Lenny") artfully frames the drama and the alienation, in the style of Corbijn's own rock photos. The film was shot in color, flipped to b&w.
The documentary extras on the Weinstein Co./Genius Products DVD of "Control" do a solid job of covering the unusual production. (For those wanting more on the band, the companies also have released the well-received docu Joy Divisionas another Miriam Collection title.)
Sam Riley, a 27-year-old actor and singer from Leeds, turned up at an open call for the indie pic, somehow both resembling Curtis and singing like the fallen rocker in a lowdown baritone. Corbijn slipped into "an incredible deja vu."
The other Joy Division actors also were musicians. The idea was the lads would be able to play their instruments along with the Joy Division soundtrack, instead of posing with guitars as actors tend to do. The four practiced daily, becoming a band in the process. They successfully lobbied to play and sing the music themselves. Which they did, usually in front of real Joy Division fans filling in as extras.
"You have this real dynamic of four guys in a band," the director says. "They got pretty good pretty quickly." The performances are raw and sometimes amazing.
The making-of documentary indicates the actors were shadowed by the reality that most of the people they played were still alive and sensitive about many elements of the story.
Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh worked with Ian Curtis' widow, whose book was the basis for "Control." She's played in the film by Samantha Morton. Greenhalgh also spent time with the other woman in the Curtis story, a European journalist still dealing with "raw emotions." (Riley and Alexandra Maria Lara, pictured, the actress who played the rock journalist, became a real-life couple).
None of the Joy Division musicians appear in the film or in the extras.
Director Corbijn is all over the DVD. In addition to the docu, he gets a separate interview piece (worth checking out) and does a commentary (often repetitive and for fans only). There are a trio of full-length performances by the actors band, all quite good (and apparently unsweetened), as well as some music videos with Joy Division and the Killers (who do a soundtrack cover).
The letterboxed images are splendid. The 5.1 audio, however, often produces muffled dialogue, a matter made worse in region 1 by those hard working-class accents. The music, however, comes across with raw power.
* * *
Asia Argento burns up the B-movie "Boarding Gate," a sly tale of sex, murder and betrayal directed by the French director Olivier Assayas ("Clean"). Anyone wondering why she merits all that Euro media attention should pick up this DVD from Magnolia Entertainment.
The movie really belongs to two women -- Argento and the Hong Kong actress Kelly Lin, another screen grabber who seems to be making her English-language debut in "Boarding Gate." Michael Madsen shares top billing, but he's mostly sleepwalking.
The story kicks off in London, where ex-hooker Sandra (Argento) is dealing with a rich and violent ex-lover (Madsen). Sandra works for a shipping outfit, handy for doing drug deals. She's also busy doing the boss, who runs the business with his wife, the Lin character.
Argento finds plenty to time to run around in her black underwear before she's frantically on the run to Hong Kong -- a wanted murderess at the mercy of the woman whose husband she's screwing.
Argento, now in her mid-30s, has 45 or so movies to her credit as an actress. Few of those credits stray from the horror, sex and revenge touchstones, alas. (She did play in Sophia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette.") Here's hoping Argento gets the A-list parts she so clearly deserves. The woman can flat out carry a movie. The two DVD extras both focus on her.
Meanwhile, you can check out Argento in dad's new horror film, "Mother of Tears," and, coming up, in the return of midnight movie legend Alejandro Jodorowsky ("El Topo").
* * *
"Flawless," also out on DVD from Magnolia, picked up some decent reviews during its short theatrical run in the States. The English caper film directed by Michael Radford showcases Michael Caine and Demi Moore, both delivering the goods.
This is the kind of film that London produced back in the first part of the 1960s, in which drab lives are electrified by a heist or espionage of some kind. The kind of movie that starred Michael Caine. "Flawless" name-checks Graham Greene, appropriately.
Caine plays a slow-moving janitor at a diamond company. Moore is the token female executive, sick of being passed over. Together, they devise a way to crack the mother of all safes.
I enjoyed the period setting, the cool plot twists, as well as the acting of the stars and French actor Lambert Wilson. Good show.
It's quibbling but has to be said: Moore's chiseled arms seemed distractingly odd on a middle-aged woman of London. Guess the old boy's club that kept the female exec down was OK with her in the gym.
"Flawless" looks and sounds fine. The extras are skimpy but passable.
"The Andromeda Strain" DVD merited a mixed review from the DVD blog last week. The Universal release came out this Tuesday.
New and notable:
American Crude (Sony)
American Gangster season 2 (Paramount)
The Andromeda Strain (Universal)
The Animation Show Vol. 3 (Paramount)
Boarding Gate (Magnolia Home Entertainment)
Boston Red Sox: Essential Games (A&E Home Video)
City Slickers (MGM)
Control (Weinstein Co./Genius Products)
Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector's Edition (Warner)
Meet the Spartans (Fox)
The Onion Movie (Fox)
Rescue Me season 4 (Sony)
Semi-Pro (New Line)
Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show (New Line)