Tag Archives: 2012

Quickie: Sightseers

Tina (Alice Lowe) and her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) are escaping from her overbearing mother for a caravanning holiday around England. However, what starts as trips to tram museums and the like soon takes a dark twist that shows Chris’s true colours.

Ben Wheatley’s Kill List was a somewhat twisted affair and his follow-up film, Sightseers, is no different.

First and foremost it’s a comedy, but a very dark one. There’s a black-as-night core to the film that is at best unsettling and at worst really rather gruesome. But that’s where it excels. The mundanity of caravanning and visiting pencil museums, for example, juxtaposed with insanity and brutality is the crux of the picture and it works excellently. There are even a few nods to Kill List, making the whole thing seem even more twisted.

But it is funny, too. There are a few great one-liners as well as some rather bizarre surreal humour. Both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who also wrote the film) deliver their lines brilliantly, often with deadpan sincerity.

There are a few story issues here and there, however. It feels a little like a sketch turned into a film, and there are times when parts of the story don’t quite knit together or feel a little abandoned.

Sightseers is a very British film, particularly in its humour and, as such, might not appeal to everyone. However, if you do have a penchant for British wit and fancy something a little different, Sightseers is a lot of fun.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Ruby Sparks

Ruby SparksWriter and titular star of Ruby Sparks, Zoe Kazan, has some pretty big shoes to fill. She’s the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, whilst her grandfather is the legendary writer and director Elia Kazan, most famous for On The Waterfront. That’s quite the heritage, but if this, her debut as a writer, is anything to go by, she’s obviously picked up a thing or two.

Ruby Sparks, directed by husband and wife duo Jonathan Drayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame, is the story of Calvin War-Fields (Paul Dano), a young novelist hailed as the next big thing in American literature thanks to his debut novel. However, his follow up is proving a struggle and he doesn’t know where to begin. Calvin starts writing about his perfect girl, called Ruby, and is shocked when the girl he’s invented comes to life and he’s able to control her entire life through his writing.

The film starts sweetly and simply enough. Calvin has everything except someone to love and have love him back. So, when he is able to create his perfect woman, everything plays out almost like an indie romantic comedy. And this girl is real, by the way, not just a figment of his imagination. His whole family can see her, so this is no examination of split-personality disorder or anything like that. So, it’s a relatively happy, quirky film, but in the second half things take a much darker twist, and this is Ruby Sparks’ trump card.

As Ruby starts to live her life, Calvin discovers there are things he doesn’t like about her and decides to change her. Calvin becomes a control freak and doesn’t want Ruby to have a life outside of him and ends up almost completely rewriting her. This is an obvious look at how someone in a relationship may try to control and change someone else and the destructive effects this can have. It’s quite an unexpected turn the film takes but it’s one that gives it much more depth it might otherwise have had.

Something that is bound to be a bone of contention is the film’s ending. It is one that seems simple upon first viewing but the more you think about it, the more different interpretations it can have, many of which are, unfortunately, rather unsatisfying. It’s a shame that a film that feels so original is let down by an ending that, in an attempt to be clever, ultimately feels awkward. Of course, many others may feel differently about this and feel that it works perfectly.

It’s a relatively small cast but performances are great all round, which really helps build a tight and focused film. A sub plot regarding Calvin’s mother and step father feels a little underdeveloped but doesn’t at all hamper enjoyment. Despite some misgivings about the ending, Ruby Sparks is a delightful debut from Kazan and a hopeful sign of great things to come.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: The Imposter

The ImposterThink of the biggest lie you’ve ever told. Where did it sit on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most elaborate)? OK, now double that score. Then triple it. Then multiply it by the number of times Sean Bean has died on screen. That’s where The Imposter would fit on that scale.

Sometimes a story comes along that is so bizarre and so unbelievable that it has to be true, and this is certainly one of those times. Through a series of interviews and reconstruction we are told the story of how Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin managed to convince a Texas family he was their son Nicholas who had been missing for three years. That’s not even the craziest part. He managed to do so despite having different colour hair and eyes and a French accent.

Just take a second to think about that. If someone had come up with that idea for a feature film, it would be dismissed as ridiculous; there’s no way anyone would believe that. Yet it happened. For real. He hoodwinked the authorities and Nicholas’ family, spinning lies about being kidnapped and abused that are so absurd you almost forgive everyone for thinking non-one would be crazy enough to make it all up.

Throughout the film, you constantly question whether any of this can really be true and are appalled that anyone would believe any of it. However, at the same time you’re almost impressed by Bourdin’s audacity to even attempt such a lie and applaud his commitment to pulling it off. His interviews are astounding and his calmness and lack of remorse somewhat chilling. This is juxtaposed with the equally unbelievable instant acceptance of the story by Nicholas’ family.

You question everything, from all sides. Why would someone do this? How did the authorities not pick it up? Did Nicholas’ parents really believe this was their son or did they just want him back so much that they went along with it? Just when you think you might be starting to get your head around it, you’re then thrown a complete curveball which makes you re-question pretty much everything you’ve already questioned. It is a truly compelling story but one that does have some pretty big holes. Obviously, it can’t explain everything, but even with a story so unbelievable there are some things that just don’t stack up, which can be a little frustrating.

It’s also interesting that much of the story is told from Bourdin’s point of view. Can his account really be trusted or is he manipulating us from the start just like he has done to everybody else? This review is full of questions, but that’s exactly the kind of response The Imposter elicits. You’re left with far more questions than answers, which may annoy some, but ensures that the story will certainly stay with you for quite some time.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Room 237

Room 237Since the birth of cinema all those years ago, there are few films that have captured people’s imagination quite like The Shining. There are some who think Stanley Kubrick butchered Stephen King’s original text (including, famously, King himself), whilst there are many who believe it is one of the deepest, most meticulously put together films of all time.

Room 237 is a series of theories on the The Shining’s themes and messages from some who very much believe the latter.

Now, you’re enjoyment of Room 237 is going to hinge on a couple of important factors. The first is whether or not you’ve seen The Shining. For those who somehow haven’t seen it yet, then there’s probably not going to be much here to like. The second factor is how you feel about modern film criticism. If someone analysing films’ smallest and seemingly inconsequential details irks you then, again, this probably isn’t wise viewing.

Here we have five film theorists picking The Shining apart in excruciating detail, their interpretations carrying varying levels of plausibility. There are suggestions that the film is really about the genocide of the native Americans, whilst another theory is that this was Kubrick’s Holocaust film. Whilst these seem reasonable given the evidence presented, other theories carry less weight. That The Shining was Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings, whilst still interesting, is stretching things ever so slightly.

Kubrick is famous for the attention to detail he lavished upon his pictures and there’s a very good chance that some of what’s being offered here was indeed the filmmaker’s intentions. However, assertions that an office paper tray has been purposely placed to create a phallus when Overlook manager Ullman stands next to it is laughable at best. According to one of the theorists, whether Kubrick intended these messages is besides the point; what matters is that they’re there. How anyone can judge what Kubrick has unconsciously put into his films is bizarre and a even a little arrogant.

In terms of how the documentary has been created, Room 237 is a little amateurish. We are never see anything of the five theorists; they are simply faceless voices, which does diminish their claims somewhat. As you’d expect, we see a series of scenes from The Shining to help explain the various claims, but we also get a number of scenes from other Kubrick films, as well as several other unrelated films, that actually make everything a little confusing. A random scene from Spartacus or A Clockwork Orange adds nothing to what’s being shown.

Whilst much of what’s being said can be disputed or flat out denied, what cannot be refuted is the lasting impact of The Shining. Above anything else, what Room 237 makes blindingly obvious is that this is a film that enraptured film critics and fans around the world and continues to do so. Maybe a paper tray does resemble a huge penis (it doesn’t) or perhaps Kubrick’s face can be seen in the clouds during the title sequence (it can’t), but what’s not up for debate is the passion some have for The Shining and that its impact doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio

1970’s Italian giallo is not a film movement that is as widely celebrated as most others. It doesn’t get the same focus as German expressionism or surrealism but it’s nonetheless as striking, and it’s these films that writer/director Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio pays homage to.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a timid English sound engineer used to working on picturesque nature documentaries. However, he is summoned to work on Italian giallo film The Equestrian Vortex and must do sound work on various horrifying scenes of torture. After days upon weeks of stabbing vegetables and being bullied by the film’s director and producer, the disturbing scenes he’s providing sound for slowly start seeping into his consciousness and he starts losing his grip on reality.

Berberian Sound Studio is a real assault on the senses. The vividness of colour used is striking, with reds and yellows in particular, as often the case in giallo flicks, accentuated to the fore. As you’d expect, the sound in the film is also very important and quite spectacular. Virtually every scene is defined by its impressive use of sound, whether it is the click of tape recorders, screaming actresses, or the complete absence of sound entirely. Here, the lack of sound can be just as arresting.

Toby JonesThe sound is particularly important as we are never actually shown anything of the film Gilderoy is working on other than the lurid title sequence. Therefore, we only have the sound and dialogue to judge how distressing it is. This impressive visual and aural presentation of the film is outstandingly brought together by Chris Dickens’ editing, frantic one minute and drawn out the next.

Whereas the film excels in its presentation, it falls down somewhat on narrative, namely in its final third. Up to that point it builds slowly and draws a surprising amount of suspense out of the often banal environment of the sound studio. Something as dull as Gilderoy trying to recover his flight expenses somehow takes on sinister undertones. Toby Jones is excellent as the mild-mannered Gilderoy and there are a few touching moments that show his passion for his work. For example, when he imitates a UFO using nothing but a lightbulb and a radiator, it shows just how inventive the craft of foley really is.

However, when we do get to the film’s final third, the intriguing, brooding story developed thus far all of a sudden becomes utterly devoid of narrative coherence. It’s clearly a comment on Gilderoy’s state of mind, but it turns what was an intriguingly unsettling story into something almost incomprehensible. The ideas displayed are interesting and as visually and aurally impressive as what’s gone before but it does feel like somewhat of a let down.

For sound and film tech buffs, Berberian Sound Studio is no doubt a treat with the various pieces of equipment used, and it no doubt will resonate more with those familiar with Italian giallo. For those not well versed in either, there’s less to grab hold of but it’s a stimulating cinematic experience nonetheless.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings PlaybookMental illness and family issues are clearly very close to director David O Russell’s heart having dealt with them in some of his previous films, namely The Fighter and I Heart Huckabees. It is also known that he has personal experience of mental illness with his son, which makes Silver Linings Playbook perhaps his most personal film yet.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental hospital following a breakdown after he caught his wife having an affair. He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has her own problems after the death of her husband and subsequent firing from her job after sleeping around the office. Pat still believes that he and his ex-wife are meant to be together and Tiffany agrees to help him in exchange for him being her partner in a dance competition. Meanwhile, Pat’s father, Pat Sr., is struggling with to come to terms with life with a mentally ill son.

It can be difficult to handle the subject of mental illness subtly in film, particularly in mainstream cinema where things often have to be explicitly spelled out. However, Silver Linings Playbook manages to portray mental illness in a realistic and sensitive way without resorting to straight jackets and in doing so elevates the film way above the standard of the usual ‘romantic comedy’ that it was so wrongly marketed as. The ordinary suburban setting also helps to bring a much more grounded feel to the film, reminding you that mental illness is something that can occur in each and every family.

Silver Linings Playbook is still a film that could have easily descended into mediocrity were it not for the outstanding performances from just about every cast member. Bradley Cooper successfully shrugs off his The Hangover image and gives a superb, wholly believable performance that shows just what he can do with the right role. He manages to convey both the subtle and more drastic sides of mental illness with a deftness many may not have thought him capable. Similarly, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a fine performance and perfectly conveys Tiffany’s constant battle with herself. Lawrence has shown some intelligent role choices already and looks set for truly big things.

Backing up these two excellent leads are some equally impressive supporting performances. Jacki Weaver is beautifully understated as Pat’s mother Delores, whilst Chris Tucker is entertaining as Danny, a friend of Pat’s from the hospital. However, it’s Robert DeNiro as Pat’s father who shines perhaps brightest of all. Pat Sr has his own demons to battle and is clearly not sure how to cope with a mentally ill son. He clearly feels helpless but his willingness to help and unconditionally love his son is truly touching.

Whilst the vast majority of the film strays away from usual rom-com fare, it does revert to type slightly towards the end, although by this point it has earned its ending and gives a payoff most viewers will appreciate and understand. Silver Linings Playbook deserves to be seen to act as proof that romantic comedies can be clever, thought-provoking and can tackle serious subject matter.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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