Wednesday 16 February 2011

Review: Paul

Year: 2011
Director: Greg Mottola
Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kirsten Wiig, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman

Synopsis is here

Early buzz for Paul from what I've seen is decidedly mixed. Peter Bradshaw, Christopher Tookie and Robbie Collins* didn't gain much from the viewing experience. There's also a feeling that some of the religious talk that crops up (allegedly toned down from what was originally placed) may feel like cheap pop shots and will little to sway likability from some of the more feverish u.s. supporters of Jesus Christ. I find this kind of a shame because underneth the dick and fart jokes is a warm film that is really in love with it's subject matter.

Much of this is to do with the writing from Pegg and Frost who are now; to many, two of our premium comedians, know how to write for each other and react with one another. Safe to say that if you weren't a fan of their previous endeavors, it's unlikely this will do any favors. And with this said, there's something that isn't quite right about all the proceedings. I watched Paul with friends on Valentines day and one response afterward was "the beginning is a little weak". I can't say that truly bothered me (big fan of silly references see) but I must admit there was a distinct lack of presence at first glance. As much as it's been said that Paul wishes to be a sci-fi Little Miss Sunshine of sorts (Pegg on Radio 5 with Kermode) it's quite revealing how much this duo miss their third musketeer. The lack of Edgar Wright (swanned off to pursue Pilgrim) is visible as it is his visual style and timing that often helps enhance and give punch to Peggs writing and Frost/Pegg's chemistry. This isn't to say I did not laugh. Not at all, I loved the Spielberg references, dug the fact there's a Mac and Me reference in one scene, cried at the Friedmans gag and I hope the introduction of Paul has Chris Carter smiling.

The thing is Wright patches up any drop off moments. Any scenes that may feel flabby or unkempt here, may not have under Edgar. This isn't a middle finger to Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) as it's very clear why he was placed on board to steer the ship. Mottola has what I was describe as a sweeter sensibility and much of the movie reflects this. Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are lovable parodies of their respective genres and they work for many as they spoof many typical elements that we often see in those films. Paul is truly more of a homage, not looking to subvert aspects but celebrate them in a way that only the filmmakers can. It is however, a pity that it often has to resort to swearing and scat jokes to it.

Some have said that Paul is a film that's finally gives Kristen Wiig time to shine. I disagree with not because I dislike Wiig (in fact slight crush) but because this additional time seems to be filled with Wiig "learning to swear well" which woud be fine in a small doses but fortunately becomes the main (one note) joke for a talented comedienne. Wiig clearly has fun in the role (as those everyone involved) but it's this resort to the basic that often throws the film off balance. Another sign of this imbalance would be having one character too many. There's no reason for the father character in this movie other than for the last scene which could have been done by almost anyone.   

However, most of the other characters work and they are fun to be around. Paul himself being a great mixture of well picked voice work (Rogan is brilliant) and well utilized effects (Paul really feels like a tangible character). Pegg (Graeme) and Frost (Clive) also have an interesting role reversal of type (Frost appears to be more of the straight man than Pegg for once) which isn't perfect, but mildly refreshing. Jason Bateman meanwhile (with an amusingly obscure film reference) is does what he does best. 

The above reviews state that Paul appears to be lacking in jokes. Maybe. There's not much in the way of real gags a such. With this said, the references, the one liners and chemistry didn't just make me smile but are leaps and bounds over recent releases Due Date, Cop out, Dinner for Schmucks, Vampires Suck and the like. Paul is very nerdy and will have moments only geeks will give a hoot about, but had more than enough laugh to sustain it's running time and more than enough heart to make it lovable.

Review: Animal Kingdom

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director:  David Michôd
Screenplay:  David Michôd
Starring: James Frecheville, Jackie Weaver, Ben Mendelshon, Guy Pearce

Synopsis is here:

We start Animal Kingdom with the lead character J idly watching television with what looks to be his sleeping mother. It is only when the paramedics rush in and tend to his mother (overdosing on heroin) that the distress seeps in. J continues to watch the television as if what's happening is almost a common occurrence. His blank gaze appears to give off the feeling, not that he doesn't care, but that he's completely desensitized. It's a look that doesn't seem to change throughout the movie. However, by the time the last moments play out and I saw that look once more I released how effective David Michôd piece is.  J is a sponge, soaking up all he sees. The re-appearance of his psychotic Uncle Pope to the constant questioning by the police, J sucks it all in. The tension lies in his tetchy family, because now it's all soaked in, they are now fretting for when it gets squeezed out.

Animal Kingdom is a low-key, high tension film from Australia which comes along on the back end of quite a few crime features. Not just crime however, but working class crime. Features such as French heist film Black take us to the back alleys of Senegal. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans revels in depravity within a post-Katrina sub-culture while The Town is another welcoming addition in Ben Affleck's gritty Boston overture. Animal Kingdom follows the line in a similar fashion to Affleck's film, dumping us in a claustrophobic small town where the sun may shine all day but these character will still have trouble finding the light.

Animal Kingdom plays out almost like a Greek tragedy, examining a fallen family of crime who are now all looking to seek where they fit in a world where their way of life is under threat. Their eco system has changed and the biggest alteration is of course is the presence of J, who is a square peg in this family circle. The attachment of the family is well observed with hints of incest littered every so often. When J is introduced to them, they appear welcoming, but their looks are constantly deceiving. This proves the basis for the story that plays out for us. Violence comes about in short sharp bursts, but AK is more interested in character behaviour than anything. Playing us down the route of survival, the film shows us a group of people at their most primal. They will claw and scratch to keep afloat and moral is just a word in the dictionary.

This is a film of great turns with three performances which come on strong at at different angles. Pope; played by Ben Mendelshon, is a chilling and repugnant creation that brings a chill whenever he appears on screen. Jackie Weaver is equally as vile but from a quieter and more troubling angle. The most kudos goes to the 17 year old James Frecheville who in his second feature has the most complicated character to pull off. J appears to be as wooden as a plank but a quick observation shows how well connected Frecheville is to the characters age and educational status. But most importantly the display also shows; just like Malik in Un Prophete, how this character consumes the activity around him. Combine Frechveville's dead eyed stare with director Michôd's seeping effect of this family's corrupt ways and we obtain a a perfectly executed Kuleshov effect put in place. We truly believe that the same state we saw at the beginning of the story means something completely different by the end. This is a difficult, unsympathetic person to get behind but by the time Air Supply's "I'm all out of love" I found myself deeply engrossed in the outcome of this character. Credit not only to the actor but the storytelling.

What excites me about Michôd's début full length feature, is the just how confident it all is. The visual touches are never overused (some great moments of slow motion are utilised), the films powerful score made winning me over all the more easier and we are given a narrative which isn't fuelled by many twists and turns but is executed so well that I honest hadn't a clue where the film was going. This is tightly wounded, gripping genre cinema drenched in atmosphere and pounding with tension. I cannot wait to see this movie again.