'Sightseers', 2013, cert 15, dir Ben Wheatley, 3/5.
Having seen all of director Ben Wheatley’s films apart from his latest offering, the 16th century mushroom trip A Field in England, I can safely say I’m a fan. Until I see A Field in England, which I’m eagerly looking forward to, Wheatley’s previous creation Sightseers has been his most enjoyable.
Down Terrace was an entertaining black gangster comedy debut but nothing new. Kill List was a brutal thriller masterpiece, but perhaps too brutal. Sightseers combines Wheatley’s brutality and humour in a way that doesn’t savage viewers and remains unpredictable while still exploring familiar film territory.
The familiar aspect of the film is that it’s about star crossed lovers embarking on a soul searching road trip, which swiftly turns bloody. Think a British version of Badlands with jokes, where the characters aren’t James Dean lookalikes but Northern caravan pullers longing to see such sights as the Keswick Pencil Museum.
Lovers Chris and Tina (played perfectly by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who both wrote the film) have their charms and flaws to amuse and frighten us. Chris is a ginger bearded caravan fanatic who claims he is on a sabbatical across Northern England to write his book. He wants to bring along his new girlfriend Tina, to get her away from her overbearing mother and show her his world. But the trip doesn’t go smoothly, and the pair of misfits react in comic but violent ways.
Quirky, dark and tragic, this is the best that British comedy should be.
'Come And See', ('Idi I Smotri'), Russian, 1985, cert 15, dir. Elem Klimov, 5/5.
The title is a dare. I dared to see this film, and it’s been a while since a film has left me emotionally numb, and yet convinced that I’ve seen a masterpiece.
The story is familiar. A boy named Florya joins the Soviet army in the forest during World War Two. We are misled for a while, as Florya meets a girl named Glasha and they hide in the woods from the war, enjoying the nature in some beautifully shot scenes. Then the horrors of war are thrust upon them, and the scenes of nature and humanity combined turn urgent and horrific, as the children struggle through a bog, Florya convinced that his family are safe on an island in the middle.
The events that follow are moving but small scale. Then Florya bears witness to a German squad destroying a Russian village. This is one of the most relentless and horrifically accurate war scenes in cinema, for the horrors presented mirror real events committed frequently according to statistics in the film.
Come and See is a gruelling emotional experience, not just for its presentation of suffering but for its incredible performances and scenery. A tone of menace and strangeness is also maintained through its soundtrack and hints of surrealism. Florya’s face physically ages the more horrors he sees. Besides the fact that this will be unlike any war film you will ever see, Come and See is powerful for its message. Most war films get it wrong. People, not soldiers, are the real victims.
The Impossible, a film that ever since I heard about it has made me uncomfortable and sad by seemingly epitomizing the condition of mainstream Western perceptions and representations of tragedy of the other. I am not arguing or questioning at all about the films technical credentials or artistic…
This is the best thing I’ve ever read on tumblr, from a friend of mine.
I now think its wrong to gather your favorite books or films or albums or plays or paintings or whatever, strap them onto a tiny raft, and hunch over them as you rage against a heaving ocean of culture. We should dive into that sea, and catch all the fish we want. 08/01/13
'Berberian Sound Studio', 2012, cert 15, GB, dir Peter Strickland, 2/5.
Sometimes, you’re sure that you’ve seen a good film, and the critics say it’s good. You just can’t see why.
Toby Jones plays a British film sound technician named Gilderoy, who arrives in an Italian sound studio in 1976, where they’re recording the soundtrack for a horror. Tensions among the crew rise, and Gilderoy becomes increasingly alienated and disturbed, though he doesn’t show it, since Jones gives a great reserved performance, communicating isolation with as little emotion possible.
This film works best as a tribute to ‘70s Italian horror and the art of film sound effects. Watching the sounds of mutilation being provided by hacking up vegetables, and demonic screaming being produced by weirdly talented vocalists are the movie’s most fascinating elements. Technically, the film is impressive, with great lighting, sound, and shots, all creating suspenseful atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the film only offers suspense, which never builds up to much. It felt like an experimental indulgence in technology that shunned sense, confusing and excluding the average film-goer Some scenes questioned film violence and expectations of the horror genre. Overall, however, it tried to say something without saying it, which annoyed me.
Though original and inventive, it felt atmospheric and menacing just for the sake of it. As much as I applaud cinematic strangeness, a film is only threatening if it shows what it’s threatening you with. The fact that the film tried to say lots through the exclusive setting of a sound studio just felt (though I hate using this word) ‘pretentious’.
'Ted', 2012, cert 15, dir Seth MacFarlane, 2/5
I don’t care what anyone says about Family Guy, American Dad or any other cartoon Seth MacFarlane’s involved in. These shows have displayed an incredible streak of savage satire combined with crude and surreal humour. So even when I saw the trailer of Ted, I felt a little let down.
Some of the MacFarlane ingredients are still there. There are moments of humour on pop culture, celebrities and mild racism, always flirting with controversy. But if you’re expecting a continuous stream of laughter or something unique and challenging, stick to the TV shows.
It is charming how much MacFarlane got involved with his first film (he directed, wrote and voiced the funny but not very outstanding character of Ted). However, for someone who has been pushing the boundaries of television comedy so far, his first step into the movie world has been extremely disappointing. The story of a thirty something office worker (Mark Wahlberg) trying to balance life between his walking talking teddy bear best friend and his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) feels too much like every other romantic comedy we’ve seen and which MacFarlane himself mocks within the film (in this case, Bridget Jones).
There are laugh out loud moments but there’s much more room for comedy instead of the endless tiring clichés attempting to depict a romantic relationship. Is this MacFarlane trying to prove there’s more to him than toilet humour? If so, with dull characters and plotting, this is not a promising start to his film career.
'The Dark Knight Rises', 2012, cert 12A, dir Christopher Nolan, 2/5
There’s one event connected to this film that highlights the danger of hype. When a Rotten Tomatoes reviewer gave The Dark Knight Rises a negative review, he received death threats from people who haven’t even seen the film. However, when the reviewer compared Dark Knight Rises to Transformers, I was inclined to agree; not that it’s that bad.
I guess the important question is: is this as good as its predecessor, the now classic Dark Knight? I’m prepared to say no. In fact, I’m not even a big fan of director Christopher Nolan’s second instalment in his Batman trilogy. The only thing I really liked was Heath Ledger’s creepy performance as the Joker, and even the scariness of that has been overrated.
The intensity and the scale of the events in this latest film have been stepped up somehow. The new villain is satisfactorily unnerving and Anne Hathaway surprisingly sizzles as the latest Catwoman. However, all the film seems to offer is intensity. The audience is bombarded with dramatic events that take place and are resolved so fast they have little time to leave much impact.
Like the other Nolan Batman films, Dark Knight Rises attempts to be smarter and darker than the average blockbuster but there are still the old clichés and questionable politics. Although the film looks good and the action is enjoyable, I think too much is trying to be said with an unbelievable set up and story. So unless you’re a comic book fan, don’t believe the hype.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’, 2012, cert, 12A, dir Wes Anderson, 3/5
A friend of mine declared that if all films were racially categorised (like Spike Lee films are classed as black cinema) Moonrise Kingdom would be labelled in the white middle class genre. He does have a point, as this is a Wes Anderson film and most of his films would fit this label. Certainly his latest work, like all his films, glows with that warm, quirky, indie character of his which both annoys and charms me.
Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s (when the island doesn’t even have proper roads or towns yet), the character and quirkiness of the island’s peaceful, close-knit community is exaggerated to place the audience in their comfort zone, along with the warmth and colour exuding from the unusual shots and soundtrack.
But a storm is brewing (the worst to hit the island in history) and the community is thrown into chaos after two young adolescents (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in impressive performances) both considered ‘emotionally disturbed’ outsiders, run away together. The hunt is organised by the exasperated parents of the girl (Anderson favourite Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the well meaning chief of police (Bruce Willis in a surprisingly gentle role) and an order-obsessed Scoutmaster (in a funny turn from Edward Norton).
The film is full of charm, comedy and emotion but it is a little too quirky to the point of being annoying and unrealistic. If that matters little to you though, it’s an enjoyable ride.
‘The Grey’, 2011, cert 15, dir Joe Carnahan, 2/5
This film should have been called Liam Neeson vs. wolves. Neeson portrays yet another overly serious central role as a tortured, sad eyed action hero, who, after whispering monologue over the film’s long depressing intro, ends up on a plane with some manly oil workers, which crashes in Alaska.
Once the bunch of disaster film stereotypes (including the negative idiot who annoys everyone, the black guy and the ordinary, sweet natured men who clearly have no chance of survival compared to Neeson’s rugged experience) band together for survival against the freezing snow, they start getting picked off one by one by a pack of wolves. Neeson decides to lead the men away from the plane crash to try and find civilisation. However, despite the fact that he is trying to keep everyone alive, a lot of his ideas do end up in the deaths of the other characters.
It would have been nice if all this was rendered realistically. The wolves were presented as CGI monsters and any attempt at realism regarding them and the men’s behaviour was sacrificed for dramatic plot.
I was told that the film was existential, which excited me. However, although the film did have a go at some Naturalist elements, such as man rendered to animalistic behaviour by his surroundings and the merciless power of Nature in order to survive, I was disappointed that the film boiled down to silliness, despite being an exciting and original idea for a thriller with some moments of exhilaration.
‘12 Angry Men’, 1957, cert. U, dir. Sidney Lumet, 4/5 stars.
This film reminded me of Reservoir Dogs and not because of any violence. The deceptively simple plot takes place in limited settings with a limited amount of nameless characters, all men in suits. These restrictions only served to increase the film’s intensity, along with superb acting and gripping dialogue.
A boy is being tried for the murder of his father. The twelve, all male members of the jury retire to a stifled room to decide the verdict. Eleven are convinced he’s guilty. One isn’t.
The characters arguably represent different figures of society. The dissenter, played by Henry Fonda, is the ‘do-gooder’; willing to stand against the majority and stick to his opinions to the end. He is not convinced that the boy is innocent. He is just unsure on sending him to his death on what he perceives as doubtful evidence and he is willing to sit out and point out the evidence’s defects. His main opponents are ignorant, crack jokes, shout at, insult and bully everyone if they show disagreement with the guilty verdict, through personal reasons such as prejudice against the boy’s background or simply because they have other places they’d rather be. The other characters either sway with the majority or are open to arguments.
This film serves as a powerful, relevant warning against holding blind confidence in the death penalty or treating the subject lightly and attacked outdated social ideals that demanded respect but encouraged hypocrisy and prejudice, in a manner that moves and angers you.