Thursday 1 November 2012

Review: Damsels in Distress

Year: 2012
Director: Whit Stillman
Screenplay: Whit Stillman
Starring: Gretra Gerwig, Adam Brody

Synopsis is here

In the past year, I've found myself indulging in the pleasures of not only the lo-fi neurosis of the mumblecore movement, but also the stuffy, repressed, Allen-esque films of Whit Stillman. Both stables deal with the same conceit: middle class, privileged white 20 somethings whom have a hard time with dealing not only their career aspirations, but intimacy. Stillman's yuppie features (including the Oscar winning Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco) seem to be the precursor to the mumblecore movement. In fact it's hard to think of the likes of The OC, Dawsons Creek or mumblecore without looking back at Stillman.

So it is no surprise to me that Damsels in Distress not only features The OC's Adam Brody, but mumblecore startled Greta Gerwig. It is a shame however that Stillmans film doesn't supply them with a strong enough film. Damsels is a near story-less piece which feels more like a Stillman caricature than anything else. Before, I was happy to see such naive characters wrapped in the bubbles of 80's and 90's New York, or even the sunny sights of Barcelona. However here in this contemporary setting, everything feels flat.

Things start off well, with the idea that Gerwigs clan appearing to be what would happen if the plastics from Mean Girls grew up to be pretentious. Their empty headed babbling on fashion, scent and hippie self improvement are droll to say the least, with Gerwig riffing on Kate Beckingsales character from The
Last Days of Disco. This film is also wonderfully framed at times, bathing these girls in sunlight as they blather their own self importance. The irony is not missed as these girls talk naively about using dance to stop suicide subject, considering themselves angels at the same time. However this mixture of pompous air headedness is difficult to take as the film is trapped in its own bubble. No different from other Stillman film apart from one's setting.

While sparsely funny, much of Damsels comes off stilted and false, from the protracted way the characters speak, to the situation as a whole. The chemistry between the characters feels forced, as if Stillman was trying to shove all the elements from previous films into this contemporary setting. While the pomp conservatism that filled his previous films, matched the settings well, here they just don't ring true.

Damsels also lacks a decent plot to grab hold of. The vignette like structure, sways from mildly watchable to flat out dull. Yet it never steadies on something truly solid for investment. Some of these boys and girls need more to do, otherwise, why are we watching them and why do we care? Even the likes of Funny Ha Ha or Hannah takes the Stairs, give the female leads roles an earnestness to cling on to despite the vague plots that lie within their films. These Damsels lack such an aspect and it really shows.

Gerwig is fine in a role I feel that she could do in her sleep, while the supporting cast do their best with very little, however Damsels pales in front of the very shows and films that were seemingly inspired by Stillman's work. It feels that everyone has moved on while Whit is still trying to shoehorn certain ideals in. Ideals which still exist, but have mutated since the eighties

In my opinion, Damsels is the weakest Stillman yet and has little of flair and fun that littered previous films. Metropolis still stands out as his best work and it's easy to see why. The world as simply moved on.

Review: Seven Psychopaths

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Christopher Walken.

Synopsis is here:

After taking my podcast co-host on a needless, round about trip of the London West End to find a bank, we took our seats for our final film of the London Film Festival: Seven Psychopaths, the second full length feature from Martin McDonagh.. The reason I had to find a bank was so I could pay for the tickets, the price of the tickets were...more than your usual cinema venture. But when it's the European Premiere and features a talk with the director, you have to consider you don't get such things with an illegal download.
This is not a statement of confession, more a painting of a scene. It's certainly worth paying more to sit with an excited audience and laugh, giggle and guffaw at McDonagh's latest feature. A violent and offbeat tale of writers block, dognapping and gangsters, Seven Psychopaths is Pulp Fiction by way of Adaptation and Barton Fink. McDonagh's himself stated that the only real influences were Peckinpah and Malick (?!) but it's hard not to think of Kaufman and the Coens (The movies is scored by Carter Burwell) as the film goes on.

Frantic and madcap in its telling, Seven Psychopaths slides from flashback to present day to imagination without a moment’s notice. A film about losing focus which is constantly trying to distract with its famous faces and near meta aspects of plot. It can't be too much of a coincidence that Farrell, known for his risqué past, is shown here, as a wannabe Hollywood writer lost amidst a haze of hard liqueur. A man who could do really turn out a good piece of work as long as he keeps focus. It feels like McDonagh isn't just picking him due to In Bruges.

Farrell's role of straight man is sometimes a little caught up in the craziness of it all, which could be part of the fun. However for all its anarchic glee; the tale does like to go off on tangents, feeling frayed at the end, and coming off like Adaptation's brattier cousin. Kuffman's sublime comedy about "the process" has a deft of touch and sympathy that Psychopaths doesn't. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it does make you notice that Psychopaths suffers from some slight overkill. The film is just a tad too into itself to have a boarder scope.

I shouldn't be knocking too hard on the film which gives us the best Christopher Walken performance in years. Once again, Walken shows why he is rewarding in scenes of both menace and mirth, and does so with an ease that allows one to forget that they actually saw him in The Stepford Wives (or Balls of Fury for that matter).  It's difficult who steals the most scenes between himself and Sam Rockwell, whose balls to the wall performance climaxes a sequence of utter madness. Not to spoil things, but heads have not exploded that well since Scanners. Woody Harrelson sweeps things up as the films loopy antagonist.

For a film that is as all over the place such as this one (we go from dognapping to taking class A's in the desert with a lot of murder inbetween.) The film is never disengaging, like In Bruge, the films dialogue laddish, often ponderous dialogue sparkles, and the film keeps a certain amount of earnestly, despite it's know it all vibe. Like many festival films the film doesn't linger in the mind much, however, it's clear from the offset this isn't a film made to be heavy or filling. Like a grubby lads stag weekend in Magaluf, there's fun to be had, but you might have to be in with the crowd from the start to be comfortable with the injokes.