Sunday, 31 October 2010

This is Halloween


Sorry for lack of blogging lately - I've been at the London Film Festival (report to come), celebrating the man's birthday in Northumberland, feeling ill in a bullfrog way, and also prepping for my stint at the Leeds film festival (preview to come - phew!). I've also been preparing for Halloween - one of my favourite days of the year. Unfortunately I'm not costume inspired this year (last year I knew I wanted to be a Disco Bandit for weeks and weeks before and had great fun making my outfit. But this year no lightbulb has hit me, and I feel there's little point making a half arsed effort with something you don't care for) so we're doing things a bit differently - pumpkin carving, chilling chilli, spooky biscuits and HORROR FILMS.

I've loved horror films practically all my life. When I was younger I used to choose which ones I wanted to see from the rental section of our local off-licence, and then take them to mum who would pay at the counter - this is how I got to see a lot of 18 films far too early than I should have, and some perhaps it would have been better never to have seen at all (rumples face).

The first ever horror film I watched was called The Legacy. Just the title creeped me out for years. I also have overly imaginative thoughts about Dolly Dearest as well, which I've never watched but remember my cousin having the video and just the front cover and reading the blurb made me want to stay in the light forever - especially as it was around that time when I first heard the story of the china doll "coming to get you". But obviously something made me keep coming back to the heart stopping terror of it all - things like this:

Fun-time Chase and Carve's

I really enjoy a good slasher film, although it's hard to find the good ones anymore as the sub-genre has been hacked to death (ahem). There was a mini golden period when I was growing up, as that's where I remember a lot of my favourites: Scream and Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend... but there were some bloody awful ones as well - the actual horror of Cherry Falls for one! Lately this genre seems full of rehash of old stuff rather than thinking up new ideas, or re-starting up old franchises. The first two Scream films were such a lot of fun - my fondest memory being the car scene from the sequel, where Sidney has to climb over Skull-face to get out of the crashed car. I remember winding myself up into a ball at that moment, and not being able to breathe until it was over.



Still a great bit of scary cinema!

My favourite horror film from this period though, and still one of my favourite films of all time, is Urban Legend. Not the crappy sequels - dear lord don't go anywhere near them - but the very first one. I thought it was ingenious. Probably watching it back now (and I haven't seen it for ages) I would think it a bit silly - but I'll always commend it for the way it terrified me when SHE DIDN'T TURN ON THE LIGHT and when Tara Reid gets chopped to pieces with an axe. But most of all - for me not actually guessing who the killer was until the hood was pulled back. They did a great job of double bluffing with the creepy caretaker and Jared Leto's over zealous young journalist. A film will always impress me when I don't know the ending - so kudos to Urban Legend for doing that. And always making me smile whenever I hear Total Eclipse of the Heart.

 

(Jeez, how shit were trailers in the 90s?!) If you want a good fun scare, go and watch this - chances are you haven't seen it because it was largely under the radar even back in the day. It's jumpy, clever, has some great deaths, and the cast is bound to bring back a lot of memories - yes, it's Pacey from Dawson's Creek with added peroxide!

The Classics

After I went through my teen stalk'n'slash phase I wanted to get onto the scarier stuff. I'd smoked the weed, now I wanted the crack!, etc, etc. And this is divided into two sections - the latter more psychologically destructive section which I'll go onto later, and the former - the discovery of some of the finest horror films ever made. I'm talking Halloween, The Shining, The Fog, Misery, Candyman, I.T, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th, Carrie, and Psycho. The ones that always make it to the top of the Greatest Horror Movies Ever Made lists. And countless sequels as well - yes, even the one where the Halloween mask ate your face (I hated Halloween III more for the guy who sticks his fingers in the hospital patient's eyes though - ugh, still makes me squirm!).  I bloody loved Halloween though. It's the classic of all the classics. I get why people love The Shining and I also think it's excellent - but Halloween is Thee one that will give you nightmares.



YOU CAN'T JUST KILL HIM WITH A COAT HANGER! That scene was like the car from Scream 2 ramped up about 10 notches - it was unbearable to watch.

The classics are a bit odd in the fact that some of them I could quite easily watch

The Ones I Cannot and Will Not EVER Watch Again

There's only two of them - and there's absolutelynofuckingway you're getting any videos of them. I just daren't. The first one is - surprisingly - Poltergeist. Not because it's super, super scary - it does have its moments, but that's not why I can't watch it. It's because of a scene halfway through the movie, where the little girl has been taken prisoner by the poltergeist in the house, and the parents have called in a priest to help. Because they are so shook up by the evil presence in their house and upset about their daughter, they speak in very hushed tones with no music in the background which only leads to a sense of dread. And then they speak about death. A lot. And it upset me so much I had to turn the TV off and I've never to this day been able to watch  Poltergeist again. I was too young to be watching it - especially late at night - and it made my brain go to dark places I shudder to think about. Death is the ultimate unknown, and it became such a force in this film that I couldn't cope with it. It had to stop. Who knows if I'll ever be brave enough to try it again.

The other is The Exorcist. I hate this film so, SO much that if someone were to play it I would not even want to be in the same house. I would find anything to do just to get out. Just the thought of accidentally watching a clip of it online or on TV makes me feel on edge. If I find out it's on TV I'm a complete wreck hoping to God that no-one is going to turn it on and start watching it. (Obviously this isn't such a big worry now that I have my own house, but I still hate the fact it could be so accessible.) The reason I hate it so much? It ruined my adolescent nights. I must have watched it aged 13, on a morning when it's "less scary" so I thought it would filter out of my head during the rest of the day. Wrong. It took about 5 or 6 years to filter out of my head. The concept and the story behind the film just frightened me to tears, I was terrified of the idea of becoming possessed and having absolutely no way of being able to stop it. Likewise you can also understand how I chanced upon the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion when I was nine and was petrified for years that it would happen to me. For about two of three years after watching The Exorcist I slept with my light, my TV and my radio on because I couldn't bare lying there in the dark silence. Slowly I let go of things, but I was still sleeping with the light and the radio on in my first year of Uni. I'd become so used to it that the thought of not doing it didn't even occur to me. I've only been 'cured' so to speak in the last couple of years because I now sleep with someone else, so I'm not alone! It was the lasting prolonged damage this film did to me which means I can't ever face it again. It would be like the switch tripping again, and another five years of hell. I know, I know some people think it's the most hilarious film in history, but I'm the polar opposite - The Exorcist is my kryptonite.

Today's Scares

This:



and



are two of the strongest, night disturbing films I have seen in recent years. The Orphanage because it's a ghost story with a tragic heart-breaking ending (and contains one of the biggest jumps your bones will ever take) and Paranormal Activity because I had trouble sleeping for days after, waiting to be dragged out of bed and down the corridor by an evil entity. It is genuinely affecting as a film - I didn't see it in the cinema but I can only imagine the atmosphere if I had.

There are many others - The Blair Witch Project (I'm a fan), Wolf Creek, [REC], The Mist, The Ring, Wrong Turn, The Descent, Them, Eden Lake, Dark Water, and probably the one film that didn't mentally scar me that remains for me the most frightening intense experience I have ever had with a film - this is the ultimate modern horror nightmare:



DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM WITH THE LIGHTS OFF, I implore you! God knows why we decided that would be a good idea. And don't watch the bloody remake either (I'm not even going to tell you what it's called :-P). Confusing - you'll be on IMDB for ages afterward - but chomp your fingers off terrifying. You'll never look under a sink again. If you haven't seen this and want to be flat out screaming tonight by a film, I thoroughly recommend A Tale of Two Sisters, because it's a killer.

Finally to end, one of my favouuuuurite, favourite films of the past year. It came out last year but I only got around to seeing it a few months ago because the trailer put me off, I thought it looked awful. Goes to show what I miss out on from passing first judgement. But I'm so glad I watched it in the end because this is one of those films I was talking about earlier that impressed me so much it catapulted up into being one of my all time greats. It's not particularly scary, and the acting is a little ropey at times, and if you delve too much it's probably riddled with plot holes, but I think you'd have to be a mega geek to go that far. It is a remarkable film - smart, involving and stays with you for weeks. It's also (as I discovered last night when I introduced it to some friends) a film that you can turn over and over again with more things to say with each watch. I'm talking about Triangle. 


I'm not posting the trailer, because like I said I don't think it gives the right impression of the film. It makes it come across as some bullshitty sci-fi slashy horror, and it's not anything like that at all. It's more rooted in myth, behaviour, metaphysics, paradox... it's not Timecrimes, but it's certainly not your run of the mill 'oh they're all on a ghost ship and fighting alien versions of themselves' - no no no no, NO! It's one of those films where you need the pay off to be rewarding, because it is either going to be total balls or make you sit back and go, "oh. I'm impressed. IMDB it!" This one is definitely the latter - as I mentioned before you'll be discussing it for ages afterward (and actually if you do go on IMDB there's tonnes of theorists on there with their own takes on what happened). Don't watch it alone whatever you do, it's a wasted experience. I'll be writing up a proper review of Triangle later in the year.

These are my Halloween treats. I've missed out a few but only because I've yet to hide behind them (Rosemary's Baby, The Omen) but I think the ones I've highlighted are absolute must-sees and will hopefully keep you going for many Halloweens to come. You can of course watch them any time you like as well...
  1. Halloween (1978)
  2. The Shining (1980)
  3. Urban Legend (1998)
  4. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
  6. The Orphanage (2007)
  7. Scream (1996)
  8. Paranormal Activity (2009)
  9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  10. Triangle (2009)

Friday, 15 October 2010

FILM REVIEW: Skeletons


Skeletons has eluded me for quite some time. It only had a limited release in the UK so it's been a bit of a bugger to find. It was showing at The End Of The Road festival we attended over the Summer, but the guy running the cinema tent mucked up his timings, so when we turned up the film was halfway over. Grrr. And when it finally came to our local arthouse last weekend I thought we'd miss it then as well as we were at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. But due to unforeseen circumstances (BLOODY DEL TORO CANCELLING!) we didn't go. But every cloud has a silver lining - we got to see this gem instead.

It's a difficult one to describe... I'll have a go. Odd couple and business partners Bennett and Davis (sounds like a Pinter play already!) wander about the country on foot visiting couples and families who want their skeletons exorcised from their 'closets'. Without properly explaining how, the two of them assess the house by means of a EMF meter, and then adorning goggles, open the wardrobe and step into a world of memory - where they are able to see all the hidden, sordid secrets of their clients, and report back to them afterwards. The men have ended up socially reclusive and in the case of Davis, too wrapped up in the world of memory and the past to face the future (now we're into Tennessee Williams territory!). One day, their boss (The Colonel, complete with moustache) sends them on a job to a lonely farmhouse, where a woman is trying to find out what happened to her husband who disappeared eight years earlier, but their case is hampered by the strange mute daughter who doesn't want them to find out the truth (...).

Nick Whitfield's debut film is like a wonderland of so many great styles: The League of Gentlemen, Inception, The Fall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (the latter being where all the Charlie Kaufman comparisons have come from) but at the same time is completely original in its own right. Only a bonafide exciting talent would be able to fabricate such a wonderfully engaging and quirky tale from a common phrase. It's tricky to get into at first - the pace is very slow, and there is more emphasis on the petty squabbling of the two protagonists than what they actually do in people's houses. In fact this is consistent throughout the whole film, with memory and regression featuring very little in the film, and more focus on the effect it has on reality. And if you're wondering why people would want their skeletons in the closet dragged up anyway, it's revealed that no-one actually believes they can do it, and certainly not have the audacity to then spill all.

Whilst there are obviously sci-fi elements at work here, the film skims over this and concentrates instead on the characters, and how they are defined by their unearthly day job. Bennett is the realer of the two - not as clever as Davis but hard-working and quietly wanting a family. Davis has become addicted to 'globing' - regressing into an old memory of his parents reading him a bedtime story as a young boy. It seems as if this nostalgic place in time holds more value to him than his own life, where he lives alone in a run down trailer in the middle of a field with only a nuclear power plant for company.

But the darkly curious mood of the whole film means that everybody’s a bit nutty, and Whitfield plays on this superbly, evoking a deep sadness amongst his characters: the wife who has lost her husband digs for him in the garden every day in case she finds him; the daughter has not spoken for three years because she doesn’t know how to tell her mother her father has a new family; The Colonel who within all his barking can’t bear to lose employees who are in fact his only friends. All richly developed with their own tale to tell, this story held aloft by the many layers built of emotion.

I loved how the film was shot as well – in an era almost ageless between Edwardian Britain and the 1940s. I loved the monochromatic brooding horizons and the quiet walks through dead railway tunnels. It’s not often lately that I’ve praised (or even noticed) the cinematography of a film so it was another real treat.

I also now have a massive crush of Tuppence Middleton: what an amazing name, and I want her hair! She was just a big a presence on the screen as a mute than she was when she bursts out in speech at the end of the film. All the unknown actors were great here – a bit like Bunny and the Bull it gives a chance for new talent in British comedy to emerge. Jason Isaacs was also commendable as The Colonel, but it’s not a performance I would put above the rest of the cast.

The chance may have gone now to watch this on the big screen, so make sure to get it on DVD when it comes out in a few weeks. It’s one of the best films to come out of this country in ages, and whilst it’s imaginative, touching and satisfying, it is also very British and is unlikely to be acknowledged anywhere else (more’s the pity). Watch, and spread the word about the glorious Skeletons!




Sunday, 10 October 2010

FILM REVIEW: Frozen


You may remember I previewed Frozen at Sundance earlier this year - I thought it was an inspired concept with the potential for high drama and terror, but I also thought the trailer looked a little silly, and wondered if first time director Adam Green could do enough with the setting to really wring out all that potential. Well, here are the answers.

The exposition of the film is very weak - standard flat characters who all have a generic role to play - the hot guy, the hot but neurotic girlfriend (blonde) and the steady, loyal best friend - and the reasons for going on this doomed late night ski trip are fairly flimsy...you're shouting at them to get some common sense! You spend an awful lot of this film yelling at them, actually. More on that later.

So they head out on the ski lift, giving pleaded eyes to the attendant that they "won't be long", and then of course the attendant has to go the loo, and another one comes in, and he thinks they've come down... classic oh noes! - and so closes down the lift. At first our heroes just think they've stopped on a temporary hitch, but when the power goes off all across the site an hour or so later - that's when they begin to panic. And when the film finally kicks in.

A few years back I watched a film called Open Water about a couple who are accidentally left behind on a diving trip in shark infested waters. Frozen is very much the abandoned-on-a-blizzardy-mountain version of that film, although this time the enemy is the dropping temperatures, frostbite, ravenous wolves and their own fraught judgement and desperate measures to escape. It's not going to end happily, so the question is: how many of them make it out alive?

Because their situation is so perilous, as a viewer you suffer with them through their emotions (frustration, distress, anger, hope, fear, guilt, defeat) and even though they have done nothing to really make us care about them, suddenly these characters are projections of ourselves - the what would you do? position, where you're shouting out possible things they could do, or yelling at them to stop whatever frantic notion they're deciding upon next. It's extraordinarily involving, and as the film is so relentless and unforgiving, it means that above anything these decisions count. You can fight for life. You can die trying. Or you can just sit there and wait to be rescued, haunted by the thought you are your only saviour in all of this. Is it worth the risk in moving?

If you're not a fan of bits and pieces coming off the body then I suggest you get comfy behind your hands (I did). But Frozen is a very decent film indeed, never succumbing too much to the gore, and relying more on the horror generated from the characters and the fight for survival. It doesn't get bogged down in silly extreme antics, and it never becomes hysterical (though you may question the director's choice of ending). Surely a cult classic in the making, it's a surprise how much this film resonates. A recommended watch.


Friday, 8 October 2010

NZNTM Cycle 2 - the final six are here!

It's near finale time for all the Top Model cycles out there ('cept for ANTM which has only just started!). And New Zealand's Next Top Model is down to the final six and heading overseas to Thailand. It's been a below par cycle, as always seems to be the case for Cycle 2 of anything, with the show trying desperately to squeeze some drama out of a few girls not washing up the pots, or cleverly editing Dakota who constantly has her foot lodged in her mouth.

None of the finalists really stand out for me, and it's fairly obvious who will win (or at least get top 3). Here they are in all their glory:-

Courtnaey
Actually quite good, and one of my favourites. She has beautiful eyes, and reminds me a lot of last Cycle's Laura (who came second to Christobelle). But she's not very appealing when she's talking - she sounds like she's hepped up on goofballs (mine's a sump'm sump'm!) and she comes across a tad dense. But she takes strong photos and she looks very different to the rest of the girls in the top 6 so unless she has a major breakdown I can see her getting into the top 3 quite easily, and deservedly.






Dakota
This girl is not a model. Even the judges more-or-less confessed as much in the last episode when she landed in the bottom two: they worried about whether she was an 'accidental model' who fell into amazing photographs, but had no actual instinctive or technical knowledge about how she was doing it. AND IT'S SO TRUE. Plus she would be the worst role model in the history of Top Model - not because she's a super bitch or queen of the vices (although in a no smoking campaign they shot she did ask if it would be OK if weed was legalised!) but simply because she's so young and makes careless, rude remarks to practically everyone she meets. She'll be eliminated soon.

Danielle
The girl who will probably win. The judges (especially Sara) just adore her. It's a bit reminiscent of Joy in this year's BNTM - she takes good photographs but is useless in person, but this fact is skimmed over and she's never threatened with elimination because she is loved by the judges. She has a bit of a sob story background, so I think that's why she gets fawned upon so much. Presenters love to see a 'journey'. She is steadily getting better though, and I have to admit I have a little bit of a soft spot for her as well (when she dreamt that her friend had died in a car crash and then the next day to find out that he had was shocking). A definite winner/runner-up.

Elza
One of the creepy twins! For a while there - before sister Nellie was eliminated last week - I thought they were going to keep them in for as long as possible, enough to keep the gimmick running until the finale of the Cycle and have them as the two battling down the runway. But Elza is the only one remaining now, and perhaps she'll be a stronger, more likable contender being her own person. I do love her makeover, and she comes up with some of the most memorable photos. But she could potentially lose the plot without 'the sharer of the womb' with her.

Lara
It's actually up for grabs between her and Dakota as to who is the worst of the final 6. To be honest I'm not even sure how she got this far - there were other girls much stronger than her and with more of a modelesque look than Lara (Eva, for example, who was eliminated far too early). Lara's a bit like a packet of flour - she's too pasty and she just kinda sits there like a big lump taking up space. Her photos are erratic and mediocre at best. She's a dancer, and that's what she should have stuck to.

Michaela
My favourite. I think she's soooo pretty - a beautiful South African/New Zealand mix. In the early episodes where there are so many girls standing together learning to be models, she was the only one who stood out as already having the sparkle. She looks a thousand per cent classier and refined than the rest. And she's been taking really strong photos as well, but unfortunately she had a bit of a breakdown last week and was lucky her consistency has been so strong otherwise she would have been in trouble. But every winner has a bad week (Christobelle and the watch, need we forget?) so hopefully Thailand will bring Michaela right back to the front of the pack.


So there's the girls - who will win? You can find out with me here!


Sunday, 3 October 2010

FILM REVIEW: The Hole 3D


I'm only adding "3D" to distinguish from all the other The Holes that are out there. I was actually a bit annoyed that you could only see this film in 3D as I'd washed my hands of that whole pricey gimmick a while ago, and wanted to see the bog standard normal eyes version. But for some reason it's The Hole 3D or nothing at all. So I had to wear my stupid goggles, grin and bear it.

So this was a bit of a silly kiddy choice of film to go watch, but I'd been impressed with the trailer and its been garnering some good reviews. And I love this genre of film - family friendly horror - as I think it's so overlooked and ignored by most filmmakers today. I'm not talking about rubbish throwaways such as The Haunted Mansion and Casper - I'm talking about the films that you can still enjoy as an adult, but if you watch them as a child they'll shake up your world and give you nightmares for the next five years of your life. Films such as these (and Return To Oz - I have no idea how that was missed off the list). Films to reminisce about when you're at University and then bung on for a laugh. But inside you always remember.. I like to think The Hole 3D has already achieved such an alumni.

I have a lot of time for Joe Dante - I particularly loved The 'burbs which I can easily watch on TV on a Saturday afternoon. He's very good at bringing the creepy and the surreal to wholesome quiet suburban towns where not very much happens, but deep within the tree-lined lanes and flat green lawns there's actually a vortex of absurd supernatural goings on. And such is the setting for this film: a family move into their new home and it's not long before the two sons find a bolted up trapdoor in the house basement. Casually opening it up it reveals a dark seemingly bottomless pit, which their hot young female neighbour also comes to take a peek at. Fascinated by its weirdness, they begin examining and poking at it in further detail... and then horrible things start happening to them.

It's not exactly terrifying stuff, but there are some genuinely creepy moments in the beginning, such as the hobbling little girl in the bathroom who cries blood, and the evil jester clown who appears to be moving by itself. The concept of the film is also notably simple for its younger targeted audience: the hole sees into the soul and discovers your darkest fear, and then plagues you with it until you defeat it or go insane. It's called "the darkness" in the film, and this is really cleverly played upon when the freaked out kids go to visit the house's previous owner who now lives in an abandoned warehouse in a jungle of lamps and light bulbs to dispel the 'darkness'. That was my favourite touch of the whole film.

It does go downhill as the film draws to a close - traumatic back-stories are suddenly revealed and then tackled head-on by the kids who are now older and brave enough to face their fears. The eldest of the boys is terrified of his father, whose now in prison after throwing his fists at his family one too many times. It seemed odd to plump out the supernatural hijinks with a bit of domestic violence. Perhaps this was Dante trying to give a more complete approach to fears and nightmares - not all children have the luxury of being afraid of a monster under the bed.

The kids seem decidedly unfazed as the film progresses as well, their fear being almost put-on for the show, and when things really get down to business they confront the nightmares with ease. I know I shouldn't expect any less from a PG, but the acting could have been better.

I'm not going to urge you to fork out nine pounds to go and see this, but in a few years time when it is that Saturday afternoon rainy day film, then for enjoyment's sake you'll do well spending it in The Hole (not 3D. Unless we have 3D telly's by then. DEAR GOD, NO!)


FFS/RIP


Grrr. I hate America sometimes.


Australia's Next Top Model Is... Sophie!

....probably. Who knows?

As you may have seen on my Twitter feed, AUSNTM completely bollocksed up their live finale this week by announcing the wrong winner of Cycle 6. And then letting her celebrate for almost a full minute before - in what looked to be suspiciously staged but of course it can't have been *ahem* - revealing the actual winner.



I thought Kelsey was brilliant about it, and felt awful for poor Amanda whose big moment had been reduced to "sorry it's Amanda" rather than "AMANDA IT'S YOU!" and then having the spotlight totally taken away from her, and onto Kelsey who's just been given thousands of dollars, a model agent, a cover of Harper's Bazaar and a trip to New York and then had them swiped out of her hands seconds later. It's more than tangible, it's actually OWNING them. What a farce.

I've never liked the live finales in Australia. First off, I don't believe the public (who would vote for a cow dressed in a plastic bag if it was a single mother whose dad had died the week before she had been accepted onto the show and who now watches down on her from heaven) should have a say in who gets jump-started a modelling career. What the hell do they know about the fashion industry? Bugger all is what. And the whole pantomime of watching all the 'hilarious' best bits from the Cycle, awkward reunions with all the dud contestants, live band performances, endless ruminating and analysing for one hour and a half... it's sooooooooo boring. For once, just watch and copy America's Next Top Model and stop trying to be clever about it.

I do feel sorry for Sarah Murdoch, who replaced the last host Jodhi Meares a couple of years ago for similar live finale reasons - she messed up a lot of the links and was generally considered to have done a god awful job of it. She quit weeks later, totally crushed. Murdoch, who is actually a great mentor to the girls and a competent host, will now have tremendous pressure on her to undo her grave mistake. Look how her face changes in these shots when the production team have clearly told her she's announced the wrong girl:


Smile freezes
Mouth drops
Sheer horror
Major balls up
She insists the mistake wasn't deliberate, and she must be devastated by the whole shambles.

Unfortunately, Britain's Next Top Model has now cottoned onto this ridiculous calamitous idea and will be hosting its first ever live finale to determine the winner of Cycle 6 next week (go Tiff!). Let's just hope it's more boring than outrageous, because stunts like this detract away from the more credible versions of this franchise. Australia's Next Top Model was leading the way with winners such as Alice Burdeu, but now everybody's laughing at it. Another new host may be imminent.

But let's try and remember the real winner throughout all of this, as she's a beautiful girl and is bound to do well in her own right - Amanda Ware.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

FILM REVIEW: The Town


What I think is profitable and extremely welcoming about Ben Affleck's foray into directing is the way he makes the theme of his films so accessible to all audiences. Both of his features have now been set on the violent corrupted streets of Boston (USA... joke!) and both have been centered around an abduction. Throw in double dealings, complicated interwoven relationships, and intense but unfathomable mumblings - this can be heavy-going for a girl in her mid-twenties, who doesn't understand or even care about the seedy underground world of drugs, paid sex and the freedom of a gun. So what best to do? Make the villains the protagonists. Make the villains feel the same as you and me. That's where The Town succeeds, and earns my attention.

For a moment I thought it wouldn't. The start is very full-on, and there's a lot to take in. As the masked gang invade the bank, threaten the staff to get open the safe, the camera lingers on one of the men looking at Rebecca Hall in an almost remorseful way, I wondered if this was a flashback. I wondered if this whirlwind of action would end in an enticing "six months earlier" thrown across the screen. But once I realised this was real-time and actually happening, I had to run with it, hoping I was following things correctly so as to not get thrown off the ride. I was uneasy. What I loved about Gone Baby Gone was how the plot always focused on the case of the missing girl, no matter how and where it deviated. Here, I wasn't sure what the focus was going to be, until Doug (Affleck) is given the task of keeping an eye on Claire (Hall) in case she remembers any key details of her abduction from the bank and reports them to the FBI. Of course he falls for her, and then it all becomes about Doug, the mess he's dug himself into and his attempts to redeem himself by loving Claire. Suddenly it's all about character and that's far more interesting and emotive.

The problem was it was Ben Affleck! I'm still not convinced by him as an actor, I just don't find him watchable - a dozen other actors could have played his part. And he was pointedly shown up by his on-screen brother Jeremy Renner, who was fantastically savage and hateful as 'Jem', but charismatic; he owned every scene. I was also surprisingly impressed with Blake Lively, who played coked up single mother slut effortlessly well, with a dirty twinkle in her eye. Shows she can portray more than just a whiny Serena Van Der Woodsen, and she may have a career ahead of her yet. She'll learn well from Rebecca Hall, who is a classy actress dripping charm, and she's wonderful in anything.

I thought the set pieces were electrifying, particularly the attack on the security van when the gang are hidden behind those poster-blazoned nun masks. The car chase sequence was heart stopping, and showed there was no need for flipping lorries or flying tanks to create amazing cinema. The heist at the end was wonderfully drawn out as well: with the gang having so far been one step ahead of the authorities, there is no prevailing sense of doom over the whole affair. You're enthralled as to who is going to come away the winner.

I wasn't too pleased with the ending - it was a bit cheap to think just because we've followed them throughout the film the gang members are the good guys, they are sympathetic, and they deserve to get away with the things they've done. They don't. Jem's shooting down was immensely satisfying, and a relief after a moment where Doug might jump in and save him. Doug's escape from the city and his fate because 'he has a dad in prison, a dead mother and a heart after all' was less gratifying. Why should he deserve his freedom and not the rest? He may never have put a bullet in someone, but he's culpable and responsible for the actions of everyone else. Claire should have bluffed him instead of helping him. The only thing which cools me slightly is realising this film was based on a book, and so they would have been bound to that ending rather than their own.

Overall it didn't feel as accomplished a film as Gone Baby Gone. This will be a strange thing to say but it felt 'lighter' somehow - as if the frothy love story deterred away from the more serious aspects of the plot. Ben Affleck's second film doesn't live up to his first but The Town still delivers in exhilarating action, convincing complex relationships and a last gasp breath to the finish. It's just a shame he's in it really...


FILM REVIEW: Going The Distance


There’s no getting away from it – I absolutely adored this film! Usually I like to hold my opinions out until the end with reviews but with Going The Distance it’s just joy, joy, joy bursting forth. If you haven’t seen it already hopefully I’ll have convinced you by the end of this praise-fest. And get there quickly, it’s nearly disappeared from cinemas!

I’m very, very choosy when it comes to chick flicks. I think you’ve got to be (unless you really love all that clich├ęd gooey trash, in which case, what are you doing reading this blog?!) If it’s on the TV on a Sunday night I’d probably let you get away with it… but actively paying up to eight quid to go and see it on the big screen – you better get your money’s worth. Here’s a quick handy guide if you’ve been feeling let down recently:
  • Avoid films with Katherine Heigl in them.
  • Particularly if they start off with a couple hating each other, usually in flashy high-powered jobs.
  •  Avoid films involving pregnancy/conceiving/insemination/birth/screaming toddlers. Angsty teenagers are sometimes tolerable. 
  • If it’s “from the producers of a shit film!” learn that a leopard never changes its flops. 
  • If the trailer has lots of “omgz embarrassing” moments in it, and general juvenile slapstick, double entendres, sex jokes, losing all your clothes inexplicably… go watch a Carry On film. 
  • If it’s a TV star’s first break into Hollywood it’s probably a shit script for their level of acting.
  • If the whole plot of the film is easily worked out through watching the trailer – job done. Inadvertently.
  • DO NOT WATCH FILMS WITH KATHERINE HEIGL IN THEM.


There. Sorted. Onto Going The Distance.

Throughout the droves and droves of rom-com dross that come out, the plot for this film actually piqued my interest straight away and surprised me because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the subject of a long distance relationship being tackled head on before. It’s actually a plausible and emotional concept for a film, which immediately makes it all the more appealing to watch. Empathy for a start. I really liked the cute graphics showing the planes travelling from the east coast to the west – straight away it moves ahead of the pack, and all it had to do was add a relatively standard creative touch that is all over films such as 500 Days of Summer and Juno.

And then the leads were fantastic – such a great chemistry and rapport between them, and I have since found out they are a real life couple, so a bit of a coup for the director there! I’m not a huge Drew Barrymore fan – I find her a bit too goofy at times – but she was just perfect here, playing the ditz but being smart with it as well, and really likable. And Justin Long – what a presence he’s turned out to be! Very attractive (he reminds me of a more conventional Zack Braff). I’ve always had a soft spot for him in films like He’s Just Not That Into You and Drag Me To Hull, but this is the first film I’ve seen where he takes a leading role, and to be honest it’s hard not to root for any relationship he forms with a girl because he’s just so god damn lovely and you want them to be together! He’s like the male equivalent of Reese Witherspoon.

Another thing which set this film apart – the language. It was so graphic and naughty at times, it actually made me beam with pride because it felt mature and grown-up and not dumbed down for the PG crowd. 12 year old girls who get all the ha-ha farting jokes aren’t going to get the sexual hang-ups and bitching that is freely expressed here and I loved that. It makes you feel more included and valued as a viewer. Fancy that - a writer who has actually been in a real life relationship and isn’t just creating a fantasy for the screen!

This does have elements of fantasy; incredulous moments that just would not happen to you and your mates, and an ending which is a bit too idealistic – but not before all the grafting has been done, and a messy break up and then a reconciliation which is actually a compromise rather than a fairytale. I found myself getting really involved as well working out solutions for them - where they could live to see the most of each other, and how they would commute to work…I was pining for a sequel by the end because I wanted to know when they would actually live together in the same city permanently!

The ‘sidekicks’ were also really well used – it was that style of humour and filmmaking, where you feel as though you’re actually sat, invisible, with the characters and you’re eavesdropping in on their conversation: it was just banter about nothing, about ridiculous things that you do end up discussing at some point in your life (like why there are no baby pigeons in the city) and as the conversation drags on and on, it has no point to it, no plot device or contrivance, it just meanders along until the camera decides to cut out. Lovely. Oh - and Kelli Garner as well! She’s so pretty, and was very pleased to see her turn up as a recurring character on My Generation t’other day.

Best, best romantic comedy I’ve seen for ages. See – when you know what you’re looking for you’re not going to be disappointed. And Going The Distance surpassed every one of my expectations by about a million. Interestingly this was director Nanette Burstein’s first feature film (her other credit being documentary American Teen which I’ve been meaning to see for ages!) so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on her next project, as I will with debut writer Geoff La Tulippe. What an amazing first time double combo!

Oh, and the reason for the five cheeses? (Five cheeses being somewhat of a rarity around these parts…) Well it was for this line: “You want to go back to mine and cry? If you want to get really fucked up, we can listen to the Garden State soundtrack.”