Archive for October, 2011

In a nutshell: Thoughtful yet chilling – a worthy companion to the novel.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Don’t expect any easy answers in We Need To Talk About Kevin.

The film, based on Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel of the same name, may be about a high school massacre where the culprit is known, but, as the credits roll, your mind will still be ringing with questions about who’s to blame.

Morvern Callar director Lynne Ramsay stamps her unique style on the feature with an evocative and harrowing interpretation of the book.

But what is also brilliant is the cast. Ezra Miller is chilling as teenager Kevin and Tilda Swinton is exceptional as his troubled mum Eva. To a large extent, this is Eva’s story and Swinton’s solid performance is really what gives weight to the film.

Through a series of jumbled present-day sequences and flashbacks – which replace the letters to her husband in the book – you gradually start to see the deconstruction of Eva’s life. Expect painful contrasts between her past life in middle class comfort and her woes in the present day as she is demonised on a daily basis.

You can’t help but feel sympathetic as Eva is constantly stared at and even attacked by members of the victims’ family who hold her responsible. But is she a victim? After all, Eva was a free spirit and it is made abundantly clear she never wanted to be a mum. Her trips around the world are replaced by dirty nappies and a job in a travel agency. Eva feels trapped and you see stages in Kevin’s upbringing where he isn’t given the love and care by her that he probably needs. Then again, Kevin is clearly damaged and disillusioned in much deeper ways than a parent’s neglect, as the film puts a good case forward for the nature versus nurture argument.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of those odd films where you know the outcome before it happens but it doesn’t make it any less hard hitting or thought provoking. A haunting work, it is almost a companion piece to Gus Van Sant’s haunting and similarly themed Elephant.

 Reviewer: DavidMorgan

In a nutshell: For grown ups only.

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

It would have been hard to believe back in 2004, when the fantastical chilren’s adventure Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was released, that the oldest Baudelaire sibling (baby faced Melbournian Emily Browning) would grow up to play roles so inherently erotic, so hard hitting and so devastatingly heartbreaking. I mean, of course, her portrayal of the ass-kicking BabyDoll (nemesis of all things CGI) in the adolescent wet dream Sucker Punch, and, on the opposite side of the Hollywood scale, the tragic, eponymous lead in the celluloid poem Sleeping Beauty. As her IMDB entry proves, one thing is sure about Browning, she is nothing if not eclectic.

Shrugging off all memories of Sucker Punch (thankfully), Sleeping Beauty sees Browning back to brunette as Lucy, a disaffected twenty-something working odd jobs for cash while making her way through college. There is little Lucy won’t do for cold, hard bucks, from office admin to offering herself up for clinical research.

After answering an advert in a student newspaper, Lucy is drawn into a strange, erotic world where she is paid to submit totally. Fast asleep on unknown drugs, Lucy is made available for selected clients to do as they please to her, bar penetration and anything that will mark her body. She is also required to not ask questions about her sleeping hours, but soon, as her life in the real world slowly unravels, she finds her curiosity around this secret existence growing – she must find out what is happening to her while she sleeps.

An obviously disaffected young woman, Lucy’s deeper issues are never made clear. She is presented to her male clientele as an exquisite beauty, a willing and seemingly innocent living doll, but in the real world we see others treat her with disdain, bordering on hatred. Equally bemusing is her actions  – she burns money, she lies to her mother, she rents an apartment on a whim and, most intriguingly, has an alcoholic friend (Leslie Ewen) who appears to be the only person she loves. There are no answers, no explanations for any of this, which is understandably frustrating but also, surprisingly, adds to the haunted, poetic feel of the film. Too much exposition, you see, might break the spell.

The directorial debut from Julia Leigh (with Jane Campion giving it added kudos), Sleeping Beauty is as far away from a child’s fairy tale as you can imagine. And yet, it has retained a quality that is synonymous with those age old stories – an ethereal air, a fragility, or perhaps merely a  starkness, that makes is mesmerising. While there may be nothing magical here, nonetheless it is a world removed from normality, an erotic dreamscape where hearts can shatter and no one really cares.

Reviewer: CurlyShirley

In a nutshell: Whiny American self-obsesses across 100 years. But it sure looks pretty.

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

If you were to do a straw poll asking what actor today could embody the whiny, self obsessed, intellectual nerd as portrayed by Woody Allen in, well, Woody Allen’s movies, fair to say Owen Wilson wouldn’t top the list. But, hey, you know what? As Midnight in Paris proves, he’s actually pretty good in a quintessentially Allan-esque role. In fact, it’s quite pleasant to see the genial Texan play more than his usual laid back, lovable “dude”.

Wilson plays Gil, a successful screen writer who yearns for the artistic lifestyle of 1920s Paris. Ensconsed in a garret, or a plush house in the countryside, Gil just knows France would help him achieve his dream of writing that elusive first novel, the one he needs to prove to himself and everyone else he really is a writer, not just a Hollywood hack.

On holiday in the city of love with his spoilt fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her snobbish parents (Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller), a wine-soaked Gil takes a meandering walk one night and, lost at midnight, finds himself drawn into another, parallel dream world. Namely, he finds himself in the 1920s where literary legends such as Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) are waiting to welcome him into their heady, bohemian lifestyle.

As the focal point of the movie, Owen has a lot riding on his shoulders but he pulls it off with apparent ease, giving Gil an intensity, a self obsession that seems natural, intriguing and, surprisingly, quite engaging. McAdams and her folk, including cheesy friend Paul and his obsequious wife Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda), are presented as the boorish villains, all too ready to blame a  poor chambermaid when earrings go missing. Modern day horrors though they are, some of the best scenes are when this group are on screen, bickering yes but stealing all the laughs, raising wry smiles of recognition.

Of course, Midnight in Paris is more than just a study of people. Away from his beloved New York, director Allen offers us a picture postcard of a movie. From snapshots of modern day Paris to the glamour of the 20s and the smoky, gaslit Belle Epoque, each scene is as sumptuous as the next. While it is (thankfully) not quite the sacharrine capital city of Amelie, it is certainly a Paris you wish you could drop into uninvited, pop round for a glass of Absinthe and some scintillating conversation.

So a winner all round surely? And yet, not quite. All the right ingredients are there but somehow Gil’s 1920s lack true vibrancy. The setting are perfect, the colours deep and rich, each actor the idealized picture of their famous counterpart, embodying their mannerisms, their habits.  And as fake as Inez’s love. They are mere ciphers, in place only to prop up Gil’s literary ambitions, when you long to see these literary celebrities in their full, squabbling, drinking, debaucherous glory. Gil too, for someone entranced by the stories of the roaring 20s, seems happy with only a glimpse, a few measly sentences, a periphery presence in a tweed jacket. It is a shame because amongst this cast there is such talent, such opportunity, if only they were given the chance to shine for more than a few minutes.

It is no secret that Allen is best at the subtleties of humanity, the humour to be found in family bickering, snobbish judgements, lack of understanding. Here too, that is where the real laughs lie, golden moments such as Gil berating Inez’s father in a politely belligerent political rant. Contrarily, when Midnight in Paris strives too hard to be funny – the daft detective sideline – it is at its most irksome.

Then again, Midnight in Paris isn’t trying to be more than its parts, it isn’t trying to get us drunk on olde worlde splendour, nor make us laugh until our sides ache. It is trying to capture that essence, that joie de vivre which French comedies such as Priceless do so well, something fragile and soft, something which Hollywood romances so often fail to deliver.

Midnight in Paris is, simply, a beautiful movie, a whispery, summer romance that will be quickly forgotten but no less loved.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Alien invasion meets soap opera

Popcorn rating: 2.5/5

Think of aliens from outer space and you’ll probably picture a sweaty, shaven headed Sigourney Weaver battling xenomorphs; or perhaps you’d focus on the softer tales of aliens interacting with humanity favoured by a young Steven Spielberg; or maybe you’d chuckle at the idea of a terrified 1950s radio audience panicked at how real a fictional ‘we’ve been invaded’ news announcement can be.

Falling Skies is very much in the Spielbergian camp, offering a story focusing on the human toll of an alien invasion. As an added credit, the world famous, cap wearing director even signed on as an executive producer. Of course, in retrospect, he probably wishes he hadn’t bothered as, quite simply, Falling Skies just doesn’t cut it.

Like The Walking Dead, Falling Skies is set after a catastrophic event and focuses on mankind’s last hopes at fighting back. The story centres on a band of survivors, based within the army’s ragtag 2nd Massachusetts division who have made their camp at John F. Kennedy High School. We quickly learn mankind is not alone. Hulking mechs roam the streets and highways eliminating everything in their way, while six-legged alien “soldiers”, known as skitters, enslave human children.

The aliens and their weaponry are eye catching, interesting, thrilling even, but when the aliens are nowhere to be seen, the American series doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. This is supposed to be an apocalypse, a last ditch attempt to survive, and yet the characters aren’t broken; they’re clean cut, optimistic. It is almost like a soap opera.

The humans are led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton) who attempts to look vaguely haunted by his past and Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) who is completely wooden throughout the 10 episodes, during which he repeatedly ‘heroically’ insists on undertaking the most dangerous missions.

This makes it incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for the humans, and therefore any anger towards the aliens. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the final battle of the series goes out with a fizzle rather than a bang.

But to be fair, once Falling Skies works through its teething problems there are some interesting twists along the way. The aliens attach ‘harnesses’ to children which basically turn them into willing slaves – and possibly even worse, which is an interesting twist (though the survivors don’t seem to pick up on massive clues hinting at the symbiotic device’s darker purpose).

All in all, not as good as I had hoped but it offers some reluctant promise for a better second season.

Reviewer: David Morgan

In a nutshell: Violence, heartache…redemption

Popcorn rating: 5/5

Actor Paddy Considine gave one of the most brutal and unflinching performances in recent times as a brother seeking his own brand of justice in Dead Man’s Shoes. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the Burton-on-Trent man has created a similarly raw and uncompromising film for his first stint as director.

Put simply Tyrannosaur is incredible.

It tells the story of Joseph (Peter Mullan), a middle-aged, working class man who lives in a rough council estate in Leeds. He is plagued with anger issues, prone to violence and has alienated everyone around him – he is desperate to become a better person. Joseph also has a skewed sense of honour and justice and, powerless in other ways, his automatic reaction to everything is with a clenched fist.

It is in the aftermath of yet another fight that he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian working in a charity shop. He takes refuge in the store to calm down and when Hannah starts to pray for him as he hides behind a coat rail, it is bizarre yet incredibly powerful. An unlikely friendship develops, with Joseph assuming Hannah has an easy life as she lives in the posh end of town. But the pair are both confronting demons, although from different sides of the track.

Hannah clings onto her faith despite the misery of a severely abusive husband (Eddie Marsan) and that’s what gets the plot rolling. The quiet dignity of Hannah’s suffering is heartbreaking and it is agonising watching Joseph’s inner turmoil. He flinches when people come near him and trembles with rage when confronted.

Tyrannosaur shows a new director with incredible promise for the future, but that’s not to overlook a cast who are all on excellent form, particularly the stars Mullan and Colman. One of my favourite films of the year so far, it won’t be for everyone – it’s gritty, violent and upsetting, yet is also absorbing and moving in equal measures with an ending which is sad but also, somehow, redemptive.

Reviewer: DavidMorgan