Friday 19 February 2010

Review: A Single Man

Year: 2009
Director: Tom Ford
Screenplay: Tom Ford, David Scearce
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicolas Hoult, Matthew Goode

Film Synopsis is here

I must admit, when I first saw the posters of a single man, I wasn't too impressed, nor was I bothered by the slight buzz it was starting to get from early reviews. I couldn't care enough about the films homosexuality being hidden in its marketing, not because I'm homophobic but because my disinterest in the bloody marketing in the first place! But then I saw the trailer for the first time and something struck me. The films style was up and out for all to see and it looked gorgeous. So gorgeous that maybe this is something I should have to see.

I'm glad I watched it because A Single Man was a fine film to watch. I was a little worried that my enjoyment may have been enhanced because I had just saw the dreadful The Lovely Bones and just wanted to see something else after to take away the pain but no, A Single Man works because it deals with similar aspects of grief better than Peter Jackson's bloated excuse of a movie. It's a film with strong performances that carry weight and a story that despite being well trodden, manages to tell the tale with panache. Some have complained it's style over substance, but the performances and taut pacing of the story says otherwise.

Ford's superb use of colour and confident direction of actors drive the film to it's end. The brightening of the hues when ever Firth's George reminisces about his lost love (played with a breezy boldness by Matthew Goode) works immensely well if a little overused. Moments of slow motion enhance emotion as opposed to merely looking cool (for the most part) and the visuals of the whole thing is as slick as hair gel...bad metaphor but I meant well.

What Ford's film captures best is the banality of what happens after death, a difficult process to grasp, but one that works by Ford accurately setting up a very pedestrian day, eight months after the death of George's Beau. Everything in the world is so sharp, clean and crisp. Not just because of the directors fashion background, but because this is how the character has decided to progress after such a loss. The contrast between this setting and the restrained look and weighted shoulders of Firth's George is where the drama stems from. We are watching a man who appears almost incapable of grieving, but not because he doesn't want to but he lives in a period where to cry out about his pain could be even more damaging.

It's a powerful display by Firth, an actor whose never caught my eye before (Richard Curtis comedies cause me to doze), brings about a a complex turn which meld old-school, British stiffness with a wave of emotion simmering just above the surface. Standout moments include George's lecture scene, a brief but telling moment between George and a security and of course the cheery conversation between George and his ditsy best mate Charlotte (the ever reliable Julianne Moore), which suddenly turns cold without a moments notice. Firth throughout is intensely watchable, but then again, the whole cast is, with a stand out going to Nicolas Hoult who pulls off a fantastic American drawl, that I myself had no idea he could do.

While this is a film which is more about the acting talent on display, Ford also tries his dab hand at co writing the screenplay along with David Scearce. The Result is a script which is as darkly humorous as it is emotional. the dialogue at times, comes off as smooth as the set design, but then again, this may also be down to the acting ability that is on display.

It's not grand as the film suffers from some pacing issues during the middle section and some might find the film to be a little dry but as a character study of one man's grief, you can do worse than watching A Single Man. Great performances, Luscious style, nice debut.

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Review: The Lovely Bones

Year: 2009 (2010 U.K release)
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Whalberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon

Find the story synopsis here

Of all things, you can't say that The Lovely Bones isn't ambitious. A film that deals with one of those big questions (Death), it's a lengthy adaptation of Alice Sebolds best selling novel about the death of a young girl by the hands of a serial killer. But be fooled however, it's not just a typical crime story, that's just the half of it. The Lovely Bones is also a drama which puts the family's grief under the microscope. It delves into the connections broken and made due to this teenagers passing and it also has the girl herself observing and narrating this story from the "in between" a place which appears to be afterlife but before Heaven.

Like I said, ambitious is one of the best words to describe the film because quite simply, the book from which the film is adapted from, clearly has a lot going on inside it. I haven't read it but i was more than intrigued with the books premise and happy to see a director like Peter Jackson tackle the work...that is until I saw the finished product.

Drivel. Absolute drivel. A boring, trite mess of a film which had no idea what it wants to say and does nothing to stir emotion when it finally blurts out the supposed message of the film. Said message comes after a cheat of an ending which has rendered most of what we saw before hand as almost unnecessary. Jackson's film frustrates from the beginning with his distracting camera and Bay-speed editing. For the first time in my young life I found myself counting cuts as opposed to watching the film, such is the distraction. Jackson seems to be in action mode as the camera swishes and swoops but doesn't centralize its focus on what's important...The family.

For a film which deals with relationships, The Lovely Bones doesn't spend any true time building upon any within the film. We are introduced to characters and watch as they fizzle into the background. The screenplay give us nothing to grab on to nor does it give us any reason to care, which is harsh considering that a girl just died. At one point a character leaves for half the movie but aroused no emotion from me at all. Such is the mishandling of the people in this film. The script also appears to concentrates more on the crime element of the film and not the relationships that the film climatic scenes feel ridiculously false, but then again, any film that features a scene that makes the moment that Whoopi Goldberg turns into Patrick Swayze seem normal, plausible and non-saccharine, is a bad thing.

It doesn't help that the acting is also so incredibly weak here. Rachel Weitz who is usually so watchable in almost everything she's in is underused and almost as transparent as the girls in the "in-between". Not her fault I guess, she is hardly in the films 2 and a half hour running time and when she is she's up against... Mark Whalberg.

Yes, the boy from Boogie Nights is at his "happening" best here with an awww shucks, honest American portrayal which is grating to say the least. Grating because it's not a real character, it's a caricature, a look at how Mike Brady would feel if Jan had died.

But so many of the characters are like this throughout the movie; Saoirse Ronan's whispy narration and whiny yelling, Susan Sarandon's amusing but one note drunky grandma, it's all done to disguise the fact that the characterization is JUST NOT THERE. We spend such a long time with these people and we get no deeper into their feelings...unless we count Stanley Tucci's serial killer. But the handling of this is just as cumbersome. There is no subtly utilized to give off tension between the cops and killer, instead we get glaringly obvious references to the fact that this guy is a massive killer and everyone around him is too stupid to realize.

The Lovely Bones was originally going to be filmed by British Director Lynne Ramsay whose methodically paced movies deal with similar themes that this film tried to get to grips with. A filmmaker like Ramsay would have used her talents to allow characters to breathe and give off a perhaps more coherent and enjoyable movie. Not the case, as here we are given a film with three scenes of interest. One of them is merely a proper introduction to a character. A film which is only sporadically interesting, and the visuals are really nothing special. Fans of the book may get more out of this than myself. I however found myself repulsed. I wait patiently for Mr Jackson to make fun films again.

Hear me rant about it on the Cinematic Dramatic podcast

Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Year: 2010
Director: Mat Whitecross
Screenplay: Paul Viragh
Starring: Andy Serkis, Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams, Ray Winstone

Plot Synopsis is here

Despite not being a massive fan of Ian Dury (no dislike, just haven't heard enough of his music), I strangely remember the first time I heard hit me with your rhythm stick in it's entirety and when the man died (both on the radio inside my fathers car). There are other artists I've admired that have died, and yet I cannot place myself when I heard the news. I guess there was something about this guy, something truly unique.

Mat Whitecross' colourful biopic enforces my feelings of this man. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (which I will call SDRR for short) is a chaotic and kinetic film which felt like a combination of Bronson and 24 Hour Party People. It suffers from the usual rise and fall elements of the musical biopic particularly within the films last act. But before that you have a dense and well told story of a man who learns from the very start that no matter what the stakes (Dury was stricken with Polio in his years which left him near paralyzed down his left side), a man must stand up for himself and forge his own way in life if he wants to go anywhere.

The film sets itself up nicely with one of it's first lines of dialogue: "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story". Once those lines are uttered, then the film is given poetic license to play a little loose with the man's life. Accuracy is secondary to enjoyment and for the most part, it works exceedingly well.

Whitecross structure certains scenes in such a way that they may not have happened at the said time as one another, but they heighten the emotions within the film. Also considering this is a musical biopic, Whitecross restrains from making the same mistakes that U.S biopics make; punctuating every high or low point with one the artists songs that sums everything thing up with a faux neatness. Keeping focus on the story at hand, the direction manages to get right under the characters skin. As does the the films script (By Paul Viragh), which is personal, plot heavy (in a good way) and full of cleverly crafted dialogue. The kind that reminds us of how well Dury placed words together. Many craftier cinephiles may complain that the film isn't the "collage" that Serkis mentioned on the radio 5 Kermode Film podcast earlier this year, and runs on rails in terms of overall structure but compared to other biopics, I doubt they have has much energy as shown here.

Direction and writing aside, the film is lead by a cocksure and mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis; a criminally overlooked actor who once again shows his range with a dead on performance of Dury. It's one of those whirlwind turns, that can sweep a viewer up with it's feverish intensity. Serkis completes the mixture of performer, screenplay and direction to give us a character who is fully formed and complicated. It's just as easy to dislike this character as it is to fall for his charisma and although the film follows the formula often, the films last moments to feel like a cheap vindication. Your left with a portrait of a man who could equally hurt as hard as he could entertain. Compere this to the glossed over moments that inhabit solid, yet flawed movies such as Ray and you realize how easily the glitz can distract.

I should mention more about the films supporting cast, but I won't in case of boring you with my praise for all involved. What I will say to finish up is that SDRR is exactly what I want from a musical biopic. Kudos is deserved for all involved and recommended for all with a love of music and film.

Hear me rave about this at Cinematic Dramatic Podcast at Geek Planet Online