Tuesday 23 October 2012

Review: John Dies at the End

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti

Synopsis is here:

I told the work colleague who put me on to the novel John Dies at the End, that the film would be way too bizarre for a large scale release of any kind. Not normally so optimistic (a Birmingham City football fan), my friend was as sure as he'd ever been that having Paul Giamatti on the cast list would do everything a film this kooky would need to get released.

It just so happens that watching this at the LFF was a stroke of luck, a short Q and A with the films director clarifies the films U.K distribution issues (unknown). Safe to say that those who got the chance to watch the film at the Hackney Picturehouse (along with the others who may have since it in other one off screenings) are lucky sons of bitches. Unless of course they didn't enjoy the (as quoted by the director himself) batshit antics of David Wong and John Cheese.

Those names should be familiar to those who enjoy cracked. The novel is a mass melding of pop culture and the supernatural, a twisted buddy adventure written in a snappy, quick witted prose that captures a similar anarchic feel that Kevin Smith slackers usually enjoy.

While light on solid plotting and true scares, John Dies at the end has the free-wheeling humour and nuttiness that makes the book such a fun distraction. Much of the films spirit is due to don casting the perfect duo to bring the spirit to life. Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes may be unknowns and their rough edges do show, but the assured chemistry that appears between them, drive the film. Paul Giamatti looks a little out of sorts with the whole thing, but then again so did some of the audience (we had two walkouts)

The film does as much as it can to keep hold of Wongs prose, but some of the more adventurous elements are missing due to budget restraints. The loss of them is unfortunate, as is some of the darker more twisted elements of the characters (David is a way more nihilistic character in the book) however the film manages to stay consistently funny throughout, while holding a claustrophobic visual style that reminiscent of  The Evil Dead. No bad thing, the film is one of the closet entries to that series, although I'm not sure the hardcore will agree or connect as strongly. It may be dependant on how much they dig juvenile web humour. Guess which camp I'm in.

Those who know Don Coscarelli from Phantasm may feel differently about the film in some of the content. However, this is pure Coscarelli territory in terms of theme. A buddy horror road movie that goes off kilter at a drop of a hat? You wouldn't be surprised if The tall man himself appeared (Angus Scrimm makes an appearance).

JDATE is a compromised vision, but an enjoyable one all the same. A web or TV series could have encompassed most of the craziness, but its cinematic journey never bores, it's far too drugged up on soy sauce to give a damn.

Review: Sleepers Wake

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Barry Berk
Screenplay: Barry Berk
Starring: Lionel Newton, Deon Lotz, Jay Anstey

Synopsis is here

Sleepers Wake is difficult to talk about as it does little to offend, but isn't strong enough to provoke. It's premise deals with a grief stricken man (Newton), who has recently lost his wife and daughter to a car crash, in which he may have been drunk at the wheel. While recuperating at his brother in laws hideaway cabin, he bonds with a rebellious seventeen year old girl, also recovering from loss. As they grow closer, they slowly become more aware of the troublesome elements surrounding them.

Sleepers Wake treads familiar territory. The idea of an older man being blindsided by such youth is one that has reverberated ever since Vladimir Nabokov penned Lolita. Here the character is terrified of the dangers but is slowly seduced by more primal urges. Lost in a waking dream, our protagonist's view is blurred by the recent events, illustrated by a liberal use of rack focusing, we view things like he does, fuzzy and unfocused. Only gaining a certain sense of clarity when Jackie (Anstey) pours into the frame.

Anstey's Jackie is the most pivotal role. A complex, full figured bundle of hormones, grief and youth. Lashing out at everything and everyone in equal measure, she is the films strongest performer. A daring performance that doesn't sit comfortably with the viewer throughout. A girl who has confused her needs of a father figure, confidant and lover due a tragic and complicated family dynamic.

It is Anstey that cements the central relationship, and we often feel the tension. However with this said, we do not feel it elsewhere. Many secondary characters and their revelations feel underwritten and the events that take place have a perfunctory feel to them. We garner what will happen very quickly and the directors visuals and storytelling leave little to the imagination.

The films performances do what they need to do, and when the film delves into primal metaphors, we gain the hint of something of a bit more more poignant. But Sleepers Wake in no way surprises or truly satisfies. It is film that fades away quickly with each passing moment.

Review: A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpsons, Ben Timlett
Screenplay: Graham Chapman, David Sherlock
Starring: Graham Chapman, Philip Bulcock, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Cameron Diaz

Synopsis is here 

Much like the abstract documentary such as Kurt Cobain: About a son, or the autobiographical American: The Bill Hicks Story, A Liars Autobiography plays old audio of its subject (Monty Pythons Graham Chapman) and sets it to new footage. In this case A Liar's Autobiography is similar to the Hicks documentary, with 17 animation teams have bounded together to create a different visual look for nearly each scene.

The outcome is rather idiosyncratic. The film irrelevantly glances over many aspects of Chapman's life; cheerfully documenting his schooling, the formation of the python name, the realisation that he was homosexual and his addiction to alcohol. The tone is light, breezy with just a touch of crassness about it, joyfully detailing Chapman's delight in indulging of the carnal pleasures. A playful hotel scene highlights Chapman's excess, as he takes a lift downstairs only to bump into a fan and stroll straight back up to have sex with them. Moments later, after heading down the lift again, he spies a younger fan (of age still) and engages with sex with them, with their mum on the telephone, seemingly none the wiser. It's hard not smirk, if not laugh out loud like I did.

The film should also be taken with a pinch of salt, as easily spotted by the title. Chapman himself declares early on that there is only a hint of truth in what he says, and it's clear that the films melding of both fact and fiction is also trying to lock down the man behind the enigma. Whether the film finds it is down to the viewer.

The films featherweight approach is welcoming but also a flaw. The moments of poignancy are quickly dealt with as not to bum the audience out and the films climax fizzles out, leaving us with nothing to gasp onto afterwards. This is clearly not an issue film, but it's final farewell to its subject lacks the emotional weight it could have had. I found myself left knowing as much about Chapman as I did in the beginning; intelligent, witty and fun loving. I could have watched Life of Brian and gained the same.

Review: Argo

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Chris Terrio
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin

Synopsis is here 

Ben Affleck's new crime thriller; Argo, has been racketing a large amount of positive buzz during the London Film Festival and it's more than understandable as to why. Affleck's period piece continues the solid directional work that took place in his Boston crime duo, Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Argo is adult, absorbing and features moments so packed with tension it places other thrillers of its ilk to shame. The films latter set pieces are taut, well paced and excellently handled.

The film takes a short while to find its bearings giving us a first act that highlights America at its worst. The slickly executed opening (displayed through storyboards) sets the scene swiftly detailing the messy part the U.S government had with the Iranian revolution. What's that? The U.S government doing some meddling overseas and getting itself into trouble? Seems awful timely...

Parallels to weighty current affairs aside, Argo completely disarmed me with it's screenplay toting a large amount full of witticisms and one liners. Many of the funniest quips stem from one film producer Lester Siegel (an on form and ball busting Alan Arkin), but the film as a whole, is constantly capturing the absurdity of the entire situation and throws it back at the audience as if to say "you couldn't make this up!" To which you realise you couldn't. To a point. The film fictionalises a near preposterous true story. Smuggling hostages out out a hostile country under the pretence that they are working on a movie? There's a fine line between insanity and genius.

There's also a line between a film being an expertly crafted work of tension, and wrecked nerves and a movie falling in on itself. Argo clearly wishes not to take a tumble.  The strength lies in the films final rescue of the hostages. Passport checks suck air from the room and lungs, a "location scout " outing may leave nails embedded in seats. Argo does extremely well at making you feel the stakes. If you had a day to learn a new background and career for yourself, would you be able fool armed security? At nearly every point you feel that one mistake could cost a life. What was ludicrously funny before, suddenly evaporates as real fear sets in. This hair brained scheme must work. The worry is plastered all over the sobering face of Tony Mendez. Affleck's portrayal of Mendez is possibly his best performance. His direction of the narrative, bringing this fear home with so little effort, I believe is one of the best accomplishments of the year.

We can't have everything and while Argo's execution of scenes are at times exemplary, the screenplay has more than a little trouble taking on the vast array of characters. The hostages one are depicted as mere cyphers, while some of the other characters who are integral to their safety seem a little sidelined. As does the shoehorned scenes of Mendez's family. The film also drops much of its political intrigue as it becomes more focused on the job at hand, and we're left with a climax which is a overtly sentimental and a little too self congratulatory.

The hard work however, as already been done and Argo does it's job as tightly wound thriller that many feel America just don't make enough of anymore. It's wears its period well, with a great amount of detail and moves with a swift pace that helps the viewer forget just how streamlined the film becomes. By the time I got on the train back home, Agro started to fade a little from view, but for two hours Affleck manages to land you in those crawl spaces and government offices, and does so as if it wasn't his third film.

Review: Looper

Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

Synopsis is here:

I've more than enjoyed the films of Rian Johnson in the past but always felt in the back of my mind, that he was a filmmaker who was very quick to show that he has smarts. Brick had its Filmore-equse high school noir plot and jargon, The Brothers Bloom was a breezy heist movie that almost felt too light on the con itself and that may have over done the quirk. To say his movies have limited appeal is incorrect, however, as much as I've taken pleasure from Johnson's movies, I've not been surprised that the fan base has been quite niche.

Looper is Johnson's most pleasurable film, and its interesting that it takes the twists and turns of sci-fi and time travel to supply his most emotionally satisfying tale. The film holds a clear understanding of genre, a well constructed world and a hearty grip of the mechanics.  Johnson toys with the dynamic, but not enough to distance, and not lightly enough to make it feel gimmicky. All the elements of the story are utilised and it's focus on character create a thrilling and surprisingly affecting update to La jetee and 12 monkeys. Those who want all the detailed minutia to play out can watch Primer. Looper is more likened to Source Code, in that everything is built well enough to wrap the viewer up into the pace and bluster of it all.

Johnson still keeps his brow raised slightly, using a constant ticking clock motif and cyclical nature of the sci-fi at hand to create an engrossing backdrop that contrasts the three main character motivations. We have a young buck preoccupied by only his future goals, a hardened old man, blinded by the pain of his past and a juvenile right at the tipping point of his life. Johnson strategically plays these characters against age old themes of sacrifice and the ideal that our actions may help a greater good in deeper ways that we even know. 

Bruce Willis is not at all new to what's playing out (see 12 Monkeys) and gives that that credible world weariness that we now know him for. Joseph Gordon Levitt has a more burdensome role, having to play a more intolarent version of the same character and as well as mimic Willis from a physical preceptive. He doesn't fully look the part but there're moments in which Levitt is doing more than an effective impression. Emily Blunt is the emotional anchor of the film and puts in a bankable performance, although elements of her relationship with Levitt could have been stronger on the screen. Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels provide solid support.

The film stumbles in it's middle act. We have quite a few characters and suddenly lumped with more background to get through and this all effects the main charge of it all. However, the film get itself in gear for a very impactful climax, which balances the scale of the implications with what we've learnt from the character during the story. Johnson's film has a great time travel hook,and a solidly believable world to place it in (I love the eye drop drugs and solar car ideas) but what makes Looper such an enjoyable watch is that Johnson keeps an eye on the human element, something that good sci-fi should nearly always do.

Cinematic Dramatic 4x14 - London Film Festival 2012

The Dramatics head to London for the 56th London Film Festival where the world's best new movies come to town. Or do they?

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2012-10-23_cinematic_dramatic_4x14__london_film_festival_2012.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!