Thursday 31 October 2013

Review: The Bay

Year: 2012
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Michael Wallach
Starring: Will Rogers, Kristen Connolly, Kether Donohue, Frank Deal, Stephen Nunken, Christopher Denham, Nansi Aluka

Synopsis is here

Look around hard enough and you’ll find critics who greatly admired The Bay. The Guardian’s David Cox wisely considered the feature a horror film for grown-ups. Behind the film’s found footage gimmick is a multifaceted piece which holds an honest focus on characters that more popular counterparts would use awkwardly against a typical, more cumbersome plot. Yet despite this; I found that thoughtful ideas aside, nothing in the film lingers. I appreciate the films intent, but nothing truly tantalises.

One of The Bay’s main problems is that Levinson (a veteran director who’s new to horror) strangely doesn't get to grips with the meat of the piece. An early scene which highlights a river attack (with the footage edited to look like it’s been damaged by water), is cut with such excellent timing that it raised my expectations for any further set pieces.  However such moments are place few and far between, much like the captured fleeting moments we see of a scared 15 year old on face time. The heavily saturated, mass footage slammed together with such a queasy rhythm it creates a beautifully pitched chaotic mosaic. Troubled gazes stare weakly into our own before being contrasted with a pretty mother with baby in tow, beaming broadly into a HD camera. The American flag blows proudly in the background as she and her family have no clue of the carnage that awaits.

But these moments just do not last. What does hang around is the slack jawed lead narration from Kether Donohue who seems uneasy with the large amount of the film she has to carry. Wallach’s script does little to help matters. The narration and dialogue feels forced and stilted and the weaker performers do little to elevate matters. The Bay has the same problem that flustered George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2005), with a script that stutters, starts, splutters and spoon feeds it’s more appealing ideas within aesthetic that is often more trouble than it’s worth. Visually The Bay could have benefited from using less of the found footage. The moments I mentioned above get lost inside a flatly captured world that really hurt the atmosphere.        

But of course that’s one of the biggest issues with found footage. It’s already tough to have a crew skilled enough to make something compelling out of footage meant to look like a compiled artefact. The Bay only hits those peaks once or twice. However as we see the found footage style seep into cinema more, the more it’s starting to feel like a crutch.The Bay; unlike more accomplished films of its ilk, has the found footage style feel like more of a distraction than anything. As the film goes on it feels less like a movie and more like a goof. Fear was the last thing on my mind. I found myself wondering if I've seen anyone do something similar with fewer gimmicks and more emphasis on adult terror. The name was Steven Soderbergh, the film was Contagion (2011).

Friday 25 October 2013

Review: Last Passenger

Year: 2013
Director: Omid Nooshin
Screenplay: Andrew Love, Omid Nooshin, Kas Graham
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon, David Schofield, Lindsay Duncan, Joshua Kaynama

Synopsis is here

My review for Last Passenger must be taken with a large pinch of salt. Understand that there is bias here, as the film was worked on by an ex work colleague and friend who is also an unfortunate Tottenham Hotspur fan. I will fully admit this because no matter how open minded and unbiased we claim to be, there are many aspects which, subconsciously or consciously, can dictate our view of a movie. You just have to look at the anonymous keyboard warriors who defend any negative reviews of Batman with death threats (without seeing the movie), or those who will always favour the original foreign movie over the remake etc. At least I’m honest enough to state my connection here, I’d rather you know. I'm only a movie blogger,  so it's not like you had any trust or faith my integrity anyway. Personally, I find it a miracle that a Spurs fan could work on a film. (I’m kidding Spurs fans. There’s a good chance he’ll read this).      

I did say to myself I wouldn't actually do a write up of Last Passenger due to my above statements. However, with this said, that would have been more likely if I didn't enjoy the film. As a piece of genre entertainment, Last Passenger comes through and does the job it’s meant to. Director Omid Nooshin directs a solid and engaging thriller which eschews some of the well worn plot aspects we’re used to. This is done by delivering economic scenes with effective use of reaction shots and chemistry to portray the fear and anxieties of our unfortunate travellers.

It helps that we’re given a solid screenplay. We enjoy these characters as they’re grounded, believable and well observed. The film travels at a brisk pace, yet we still manage to absorb a great amount of detail in each character. Uses of gesture and motif  are well utilised, while the main relationship between father and son works very well, managing to be affectionate without being saccharine.  Because of this the plot doesn't over elaborate the threat, but the stakes are heavily felt. 

The archetypes play well against each other. The weary but kind elderly lady, the uptight, first class seated twit, they club together and clash with a certain amount of weight to proceedings. I will say however that the females (particularly a game Kara Tointon) get a little lost in with all the testosterone being flung around, while the performance from Iddo Goldberg is amusing enough before becoming slightly grating. Still this is a strong cast of characters who solidity the idea that these are ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.

Last Passenger is something we don't get very often; a genre film that not only places its characters first. We care about them as they exasperate any idea they can to escape. While the motivation of the antagonist is the films weakest point, the film doesn't feel stupid and the building of the situation allows us to worry more about what’s in front of us as things become more desperate. Last Passenger clearly has the likes of Duel as an influence but holds a distinct British voice about it that feels authentic and different.
Now that you've read what I've written, you can still make up your own mind. You do not need to believe what I've put forth. There's been other films friends have worked on that I really disliked.  But as I said, I'm not too worried about how many feel about my integrity anyway.  The important thing if the film has any. It does.  

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Review: Filth

Year: 2013
Director: Jon S. Baird
Screenplay: Jon S. Baird
Starring: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsden, Joanne Froggart, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson

Synopsis is here

It’s all falling apart. Trumbling inch by inch and you really don’t want to be around when it finally collapses. I’m not talking about Edinburgh where Filth is based. Although the picture director Jon S Baird paints, is no way a pretty one.

No the dilapidation that’s found in Filth resides in the mind of Bruce Robinson; the crafty yet crumbling anti-hero who inhabits this story. The film is Bad Lieutenant by the way of Fight Club, throwing us into the dark psyche of Bruce Robinson, a model cop if he wasn't so cracked. Crooked to the core and holding it together by the skin of his teeth, Robinson is on the case of murdered Japanese student, although Filth isn't interested in the outcome of that, as we are soon to find out. 

A film that’s unapologetic with the dark places it drags us to. I was in no way surprised when a couple walked out early. This is a grubby, sweaty yet darkly comic picture that's lead by a character as ugly as the picture of Dorian Gray. Trust me when I say that if you know and love cheerful chappy James McAvoy as Professor Xavier or the chipper lad from Starter for Ten, then you best leave now.   

McAvoy takes centre frame here, filling the screen with an ogre like ugliness and revelling in it Alex De Large style. The cinematography is so tightly framed around him at times; it doesn’t want you to escape his presence. It's not that Scotland is ugly, but McAvoy's Robinson seems to embraces any and all the horrible problems that haunt our northern neighbours. Racism, greed, sadism, homophobia, and excess, you name it. He embodies all the sociological problems that infect and devolve us. That despite this; he manages to ring out a small amount of pity out of all this sinful revelling, is astonishing. For the most part, Bruce is riding an overpowered rollercoaster of decadence, which is beginning to buckle as he slowly loses control.

If you expect Trainspotting, be warned. Both films may have the same voice, but the energy differs. There are seemingly more flights of fancy, more of an abstract nature and more abrasiveness with the film seeping into something like a horror film as it hurtles towards the films conclusion. But that's what Irvine Welsh’s source material seems to be good at, with Barid as writer/director tailoring the film to balance the rot with just enough pathos to stop you from becoming fully submerged in the quagmire. That said, as the film shifts from dark comedy to drama the film does start to stumble. Not very scene hits it's mark emotionally and it's clear some cinematic alterations almost softens the blow too much and the film almost loses it's bite at the end. But Filth keeps its eyes on the prize and stays on track remaining a darker than dark yet somewhat entertaining look at sin in the modern age.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Review: Blue Jasmine

Year: 2013
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K.

Synopsis is here

The annual Woody Allen feature comes to us with a performance so strong it beggars belief. I don’t care for awards season, but for those out there who have stumbled upon this tiny blog who hold interest I will say this: Cate Blanchett should have 2013’s best actress all wrapped up. If someone else wins over Blanchett then I must congratulate them, as they've toppled a performance of some magnitude.

Blanchett’s Jasmine is a hurricane of destruction and delusion it is difficult look away from. It’s always exciting to someone take a film by the scuff of the neck and dictate things like a conductor. However I found Blanchett to be so strong, that even the other solid displays felt dwarfed.  Allen brings together a multi-faceted cast that engages well with the material. But Blanchett, she just blows them away.       

Blue Jasmine at heart is a tale about someone who can be happy with a little and someone who despairs despite once having a lot. Self absorbed and pretentious; Jasmine is a difficult character to feel for. Told in flashback, we find that Jasmine is held together by the riches of her husband.  Everything is about stature and branding. We notice she changed her name due to money. She looks down her nose at her sister and fiancĂ© with the kind of condensation you only ever find from those who are far too privileged for their own good. There’s insidiousness in the way Jasmine feels the need to tell her sister that she can do better. At no point do we feel that what is said is done for the good of anything other than Jasmine’s self satisfaction. Little bothers her, because material keeps her warm at night. We also think it keeps her oblivious to important matters at hand.

When we find Jasmine in the present and uncover the reasons of why she’s visiting her sister, we notice just how fragile her ignorance and finance have made her. Jasmine is a fractured creature that would get on well with Penelope Cruz’s Maria, whose emotional imbalance heightened the tone of Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. However while that film joyfully played with Latin melodrama, here we only have spite to comfort us.

As the film plays on, Blanchett’s pained performance breaks through so much of the films other segments. Blanchett switches from distant to destructive to switched on in a blink of an eye, and cuts through much of the humour (the support is engaging yet cartoony in characterisation) that tries to diffuse the drama. As the film continues on, we notice just how troubled Jasmine has become. I struggled with the films humour unlike the snorting and snarky audience I watched it with, who had no trouble. Jasmine isn’t pleasant, but it’s hard not to find pathos as Jasmine becomes more unhinged.

That said, Allen’s poor people are doing A-ok while rich people pay for their sins comes across a little false. Despite Allen’s provocative use of form (Jasmine is often bathed in golden hues, or blocked out of focus during certain plot turns ), he never takes his idea as far as he can. We have a conceit in which the high class wives of the financial elite have just as much to hide has their criminal husbands. Allen places a cynical turn on the phase “behind every good man is a good woman” but does little to convince us of his conviction. This loose, modern day telling of A Streetcar named desire squarely lands us amidst the spectre of the economic crash, but fizzles out without wanting to take a good clean stab at the issue. It’s too bad, as Blanchett is more than willing to make the effort.        

Monday 21 October 2013

Review: The Kings of Summer

Year: 2013
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Chris Galletta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Nick Offerman, Alison Bree, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias

Synopsis is here

 Big confession here: I’m not the biggest fan of Stand by Me. I’m truly sorry and I have no problem with whatever punishments lie in wait for me in cinematic hell. I know that’s where I’m going as I’m one of the 7 people that like Revolver. A lot. But for some reason Stand By me has never been the film that brings tears to my eyes or wistful memories of that blissful summer that no one had, yet all remember. Yet when it comes to coming of age films, give me something like Kings of Summer that apes Stand by Me, and you’ll find me lapping it up. I apologise. It’s a sickness.

Then again, The Kings of Summer wryly observes a childhood summer that I responded to a lot more, with more emphasis on that awkward alpha male fight that can happen within the family unit. The generation gap between father and son is well exploited within The Kings of Summer. Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) and his father Frank (an amusingly deadpan Nick Offerman) are at odds as there’s no buffer between them. His older sister (Alison Bree) has flown the coop, and with no mother, there’s just far too much testosterone within a small space.  It’s tough, it’s awkward and it’s so true what any young boys often feel towards their fathers; the strange belief that they have nothing in common with each other, yet consistently at odds because they’re so alike. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts deftly mines the humour of the situation perfectly. Having Joe reject the labour chores his father wants him to do, yet happily escaping to the woods to build a house with his friends to prove he’s a different man. Early on Joe considers his father as a lonely prick, but displays the same self-destructive tendencies as his father and fails to see the irony.

Bathed in golden Valencia-like photography, the film joyfully embraces quirky flights of fancy, with Wes Anderson like character interactions (disillusioning a bear to take it down!) and videogame blips appearing on the soundtrack. I guess one of the reasons I responded so much to Kings is because it holds such modern day mannerisms so well. The film happily melds a fresher look at nostalgia with more universal themes. Kings sometimes overdoes things with its use of slow motion feeling more like a needless tic than a useful enhancement towards the storytelling . The poetic licences also feels a tad strained. Ask yourself just how well you and a few friends could build a house at that age, with that amount of speed. Maybe there’s a slight hint of magic realism at play.

However Kings of the Summer does everything with an innocence and honesty not unlike the films that have come before it.  It doesn’t hit the heights of Draw Barrymore’s criminally under seen Whip It, nor is it as highly strung as Perks of a Wallflower. However it was hard for me not to finish Kings of Summer without a grin. Now out on home media after some terrible distribution issues on the cinema front. The Kings of Summers has a soul I would happily kill for as I try to get the cinematic gods to forgive me for my enjoyment of Guy Richie.