Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Year: 2009 (U.K. Release 2010)
Director: J Blakeson
Screenplay: J Blakeson,
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston

Synopsis is here

The first 13 minutes of this film has no dialogue just precise work. One or two glances and nods, but there's almost like a telepathic link between the two characters we see. They're setting up for a plan and all that concerns them is the matter at hand. It's a tense and well put together set up that almost felt reminiscent to Michael Hanke's The Seventh Continent (1989) but the Non-Diegetic music accompanying the scenes help make this less of an examination but the imagery still manages to keep up an interesting and similar, simmering amount of tension (although Hanke will always be on a different level).

Executed in such a short and sharp way for most of it's running time; TDOAC is a tightly wound thriller that keeps the details small and the pace quick. It keeps an asshole like me from taking a second glance at such nonsense like plot mechanics. It's three characters (the only ones you'll see) are quickly thrown together and present an engaging dynamic. They all held my attention in one way or another and kept my interest level high.

If my dumb ass asked questions, it was about motivations, not clues. Why is that important? Because when I think of clues I begin to try too hard in figuring the film out. Motivations say that the characters are bigger than the clues, more interesting and worth much more of your time. That's what I liked about this movie. Set mostly within one set (a dilapidated high rise flat), these motivations twist, turn and get larger, the size of the room stays the same. That's the presence of claustrophobia I like.

J Blakeson's debut film is an assured feature that does as best as it can with very little. From it's methodical beginning, to it's building of the climax in the third act which cheekily looks to have pilfered from a pivotal moment from the Coen Brothers Miller's Crossing, it knows that it has to keep moving to stay interesting. To achieve this, Blakeson casts actors who all distracted me with their portrayals of desperation. From the straight talking Eddie Marsden (an actor who doesn't get enough credit) to an effective performance from Gemma Arterton. Arterton's Alice is a long way away from her "bigger" roles and she shows to me that given a chance she can really bring some guts to a role. The lesser known actor Martin Compston has a lot to do and handles it pretty well. His performance is pretty much key to the film and if you don't believe in it then the film will probably unravel for the viewer.

It's the strength of the acting that helped me forget about flaws that the film has. For one this is a 90 minute feature running at 100 minutes. If the film was shaved a little then I feel the tension could have ran higher. Also a character revelation gained a few titters in the audience. This may be because it feels quite outlandish, it may be because the audience was immature, either way it's a moment handled well by the actors, but isn't the strongest part of the narrative.

Despite this, TDOAC is a tightly wound thriller with some confident direction and strong performances. It was also a film that brought in more of an audience than I had thought. I like to think that this is because it is another British film that doesn't quickly fall into the cockney gangsters or tweed Romantic comedy that for some reason we keep encouraging ourselves to make. Yay us!

Review: Gentlemen Broncos

Year: 2009 (U.K. Release 2010)
Director: Jared Hess
Screenplay: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Starring: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Rockwell, Halley Feiffer, Hector Jimenez

Jared Hess' third feature has come to U.K cinemas off the back of a very weak critical performance. film writers have not been kind to it and the film was pulled from theatrical release because of it. In a time where many have been bemoaning the death of film criticism, it's intriguing that the studio felt so threatened that they took such evasive action. This isn't to say they may not have had worries before. Much like Hess' Napoleon Dynamite, GB wishes to askew convention and defy basic definition.

Gentleman Broncos' offbeat sense of place and timing worked for me. Combining cringe comedy, gross out and small town slice of life with such an abstract rhythm gives off the feeling that Hess only really wants a niche market to tap into his movie. It doesn't all work, but I have to admit I laughed my ass off that at the stuff I found effective.

The film does of course have it's weak moments, much of them being Hess' reliance on the projectile humour, which comes out in spurts and gives mostly mixed reactions. A snake taking a shit on it's owner isn't just lowbrow but merely too cheap to bring any more than a a tiny titter (if that). However, watching the same owner (writer/actor Mike White) sitting on his car in a pose that's usually reserved for pit girls had me howling. Why is that funny? It is the context. The first thing I thought to myself was "he was clearly standing like that without anyone watching". Such a bizarre position for no reason had me going, as did the superb performance from Flight of the Concords cast member Jemaine Clement.

The role of Chevalier is a display of hilarious pomposity that steals the film from under the likable protagonist of Benjamin (A very straight but warm Michael Angarano). Flight fans will love it and others may take notice as Clement oozes with sleaze. You just want him to have as much screen time as others. In fact his performance made me forget that you have the fearless Sam Rockwell doubling up as not only a bollockless Dune character wannabe, but also a camp transvestite version of said bollockless Dune character wannabe. Both displays are good times. Jennifer Coolidge also lends her comic timing to this and looks very comfortable with the uncomfortable goings on.

It's a shame that less isn't done with characters like Halley Feiffer's Tabatha and Hector Jimenez's Lonnie, who are both pretty one note and mostly forgettable if not for their selfishness or face stretching respectively. Hess seems to introduce these characters as important but then almost assigns them to oblivion, through at one point their part of the narrative clearly overlaps with Clement's Chevalier's character's wrong doings.

However, with this said, Hess' film deal with the interesting notion of how problematic an idea is when it becomes tangible. It's low-key release is a sharp contrast to Hess' Nacho Libre (his second feature) and despite that film still having that same offbeat nature, you get the feeling that bigger may not have been better for the director of cult on that production. In watching Benjamin not only sell his story to be turned into a film, but nicked as well, it all feels a little personal. But I didn't find it as self indulgent as other reviewers have mentioned. I feel Hess may just know this world better than some of us. Not all dorks rush to fuck pies or take out porky's. I feel what Hess may be doing is showing us the underbelly of the underbelly* and as a director he brings out enough in his characters to make them interesting and to laugh with them as opposed to at them. I guess I'm saying the oddball works here, not the well worn.

*Jesus. How fucking pompous did I sound there!