Monday, 26 September 2011

You Hit Me Like A Subway Train

Feeling uber rubbish today, even if we are about to get a sudden random heatwave. Some people have lingering illnesses to deal with!

Let's have some lovely Darren Hayes instead.

New single and A listed on Radio 2 -that's amazing for someone so underrated. Plus he's some kind of apocalyptic angel in the video.

But this is better. Moody! Dreamy! Epic! And you gotta love the ANGSTY MIDDLE 8.

The new album Secret Codes and Battleships (he has the BEST album titles... apart from maybe Spin) is out in the UK on October 17.
Buy it, damn you!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: Attenberg

Well this was a bizarre one.
Dogtooth is one of my favourite films, and got me excited about Greek cinema and what else they have to offer. Attenberg is directed by the producer of Dogtooth, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and also stars Dogtooth's director as one of the main characters (above). And everything about the trailer reminded me of Dogtooth: long meandering shots, frank almost shocking conversation, uninhibited flesh and sexual connotations; a deep sadness. I was beginning to worry that everyone in Greece was severely repressed in each aspect of their lives and only now cinema is talking about it! But I suspect there's a team here, of like minded individuals whose pertinent style is bold and needs discussing. It also needs more of a set-up, as going into Attenberg blind is going to confuse you a lot.

Here's what I didn't know: Marina (Ariane Labed, who won Best Actress at Venice last year) lives with her father Spyros (Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos) in a prototype factory town on the Greek coast which her father, an architect, helped to design. As cold and sterilised as the town she lives in, Marina has grown up alone with her father watching David Attenborough documentaries (the title is a mispronunciation of his name), acting out with her best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou) whom she both admires and despises on equal levels, and is repulsed at the idea of being with a man, and considers that she may be asexual. Attenberg shows Marina learning about love, with the arrival of a new man in town (Vangelis Mourikis) whom she is able to find attractive, and death, as her ailing father reaches the final stages of his illness.

The film opens with a long scene of Marina and Bella against a wall, tongues jabbing in and out of one another's mouths. This isn't some scandalous sub-plot: Bella, "the slut of the town", is instructing and teaching Marina how to be intimate with a man - it takes practicing with your best friend to a whole new level. It also won't be to everyone's (ahem) tastes: it's visceral and squelchy, and definitely ruffles the viewer within five minutes. Her relationship with Bella is interesting, as they act out animal behaviours with one another, copied from the wildlife documentaries Marina is obsessed with and only shares with the people she loves (there's a lovely scene with her father where they're pretending to be orangutans), but she also hates Bella, and the two of them regularly trade insults and biting remarks, with the intimacy of being sisters who bicker but cannot actually fall-out. All they really have is each other.

Marina's attraction and sexual awakening with the man she drives around in her job is completely awkward but at the same time quite refreshing: he is clearly more experienced and relaxed than she is, but he is gentle with her, and after she has stripped naked in front of him after they first kiss - as she has been instructed - he quietly dresses her again, proposing he wants time for them to develop and he won't take advantage of her. It's the only light in what is a bleak film: she is alone in a town that is alone and there is no bustling social scene or a variety of interesting jobs in her future. It's almost like a dystopia world, yet set in modern day Greece.

The relationship she has with her father is by far the best thing about this film, and stops it feeling so random and cold. Dogtooth had a purveying sense of disquiet to it, whereas this has long spells of emptiness. But Spyros for me is the best character. Thoroughly dependent on his teenage daughter, he is honest about death in a way she cannot handle. But he is also gentle and humorous, treating her like a child in many aspects as they play with medical masks and word games. There' a moment (it's half in the trailer) where they're in a hospital corridor and she runs her finger down his forehead as he sits in a wheelchair and presses his nose. He goes "boooop". It's just wonderful. The hollow tone of the film means the father-daughter relationship and his passing away never renders sentimental or tragic - it's very matter of fact, even the scene where she's choosing what urn his ashes will go in saunters into black comedy territory (I had no idea cremation was illegal in Greece, by the way. It was an interesting detail). The ending lingers too, without much purpose.

Unsure as to whether I'd watch this again. Whilst Dogtooth bowled me over backwards, Attenberg left me feeling slightly cool. The brave performances of its cast - with a certain spontaneity and improvisation no doubt - are arresting to watch, but it just feels a little bit too offhand. I'm much more excited to see Lanthimos' next film Alps which gets a showing at the London Film Festival next month. But it was different and it was original, and by no means a waste of time.

Friday, 23 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

There's nothing at all about this film that would appeal to me in the slightest. MI6 spies, Cold War espionage, a heavily intricate plot involving double crossings, code words and secret intelligence, a bunch of old men sat talking around a table.... then I saw the trailer.

I've seen this trailer enough times now for it to give me goosebumps (and it's really enhanced after watching the film). It's brilliantly done - one of the best of the year. Now, not only do I want to see it, but I want to know the full story, more about Gary Oldman's character, and most importantly, who the mole is at the top of the circus. The music and the cutting then give me the goosebumps. It's an astonishingly powerful advertisement for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It makes it feel like he film event of the year - like it's The King's Speech all over again (hi, Colin Firth). And judging by the sold out screening we went to on the Saturday night, I wasn't the only one thinking this.

The plot is very complex (based on the novel by John Le Carre, not a true event in itself but Le Carre was part of the circus) and I'm not going to fool you all and myself into thinking I'm now a master on it, so in simpleton's terms: after a meeting goes badly wrong in Budapest and Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is killed, MI6 veteran George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and Control (John Hurt), head of the operation, are asked to leave the service. But once in retirement it is not long before Smiley is asked by his former colleagues to spy on the new frontrunners Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Toby Esterhase (David Denick): shortly before his recent death, Control had become consumed with the belief that one of his men is working as a mole for their Russian counterparts. Even Smiley was a suspect. But now he must figure out which of the remaining men it is, with the help of MI6 'scalphunter' Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and assumed missing/dead agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) who has secretly been supplying Smiley with information from his trip to Istanbul.

Just look at that cast list. It's phenomenal, and so hard to pick out the standouts. John Hurt is very powerful in the small screen time he's given, and Toby Jones does a terrific weasel. Colin Firth has an air of class around him as ever, and both Mark Strong and Tom Hardy excel in their aside, but crucial, roles. The former in particular gives one of his best performances as the bitter and betrayed Jim Prideaux, who rather than dead has been quietly shuffled away to teach in a boy's school, where his friendship with a bullied schoolboy who he then rejects after a visit from Smiley is both tender and troubling. Repressed homosexuality is a recurring theme here, if apparently not so much in the book. Prideaux is confused and hurt by his relationship with Haydon, who abandoned him after things went wrong in Budapest and he was shot. Peter Guillam, after stealing some evidence for Smiley from the circus, is told to assume he is being watched and to clear away any suspicions - so he tells his gay lover to leave their home in one of the most heartbreaking and emotional scenes of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic in this, and proves he has the talent for any sized screen, big or small.

But it's Gary Oldman as the Spy of the title who is the slow steady tour de force of the film. The range he can display from the merest of glances is quite remarkable. He is perfect for this role, showing steel and coercion with the utmost composure, so the moments when he breaks down are the all the more violent. His wife Ann, who has been carrying out a string of affairs including one with Haydon, is cleverly never fully seen throughout the film yet we feel her influential presence over her husband, who unchangeaby still loves her.

Tomas Alfredson has shown he can easily and deftly makes the switch from Scandinavian horror to British thriller. The Cold War period of the 60s and charcoal tinged London town and Eastern Europe are fantastically depicted by the cinematographer, as was the music, the costumes, the sound and the editing - I adored the final few minutes where the resolution of the film (don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it for you) feels like the encore to an opera.  All the while I was looking for a twist that never came; it's a meagre shame the revelation doesn't pack as much punch as you think it should.

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is going to have a field day at the BAFTAS in February, and with any luck, across the pond at the Oscars too. Could this be Gary Oldman's career best? It's the very definition of highbrow cinema and you'll need to concentrate all the way through - it swung opinion as I eavesdropped on people leaving the cinema (my favourite line was between an old couple: "yet again we were watching a completely different film."). But you can't dispute its utter quality and that's what will compel you throughout.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Firstly - HUGE apologies for this late review. I'd had it half written for ages and things keep getting in the way of me completing it (generally my laziness). Also now I'm distracted as how much does Anne Hathaway look like Rachel McAdams in the above picture? Now I'm going to be thinking about The Notebook instead!

That's probably a good place to start, actually: as One Day is this year's big weepie, based on a best selling book, about a couple who are destined to be together but life gets in the way, and when they finally do unite it all becomes horribly tragic. I have the read the book (who hasn't?), but wasn't expecting this to be anything other than a fluffy and well meaning interpretation of the story to the big screen. Author David Nicholls was screenwriting so there was no-one to maul the plot points, and director Lone Scherfig has already flexed her retro British muscles with An Education. It was going to be perfectly fine, but unable to touch the book.

I enjoyed the book a lot, and loved the concept of it - ideally something I would have come up with if I was sharp enough. Dexter and Emma meet on the last day of University in Edinburgh in the late 80s, and after an awkward fumble around they bond over a ramble up Arthur's Seat, and remain friends there on in. We tune into their lives every July 15th (coincidentally when so many important events happen in their lives...) and see emotions change, personalities blossom and poison, friends and family moving on and moving away, and their bond strengthening or collapsing. It's a beautifully captured timeline of life, enhanced by Nicholls' fluent and charming dialogue, and ability to make us feel like Dexter and Emma are a couple we know and are friends with. We get to know them so intimately, all their flaws and soft spots, so whatever happens we are going to be incredibly moved. We follow them for 300 plus pages, are right inside their heads, desperate for fate to kick in. Unfortunately you cannot get that from a film. Not unless you want to make it a three hour epic packed with voiceover and long periods of the characters staring into nothingness. One Day in the world of cinema is a rom-com, therefore it has to comply to the rom-com rules: under two hours, lots of banter, conflict and consequences, stirring ballads and an ending full of emotional veracity (this can be happy, sad, reflective or inspirational. OR ALL). So a watered down version of the book, then. This is what you're gonna get.

To begin with it all feels very sketchy: the scenes are so short it takes a while for them to stack up before they begin to carry any weight. It's the longer scenes that help, when we get to stay with the characters in a particular moment in time (the holiday, Dexter visiting his mother, the argument in the bar, Tilly's wedding, etc). I was also put off by the number of seemingly unnecessary (budget?) changes they made, such as setting all of the overseas moments in France/Paris (I'm fairly certain Dexter teaches English in Rome, and they went on holiday to Greece), and I was severely disappointed when they make up at Tilly's wedding on a rooftop and not in the middle of a hedge maze. Where were the constraints in that? I know a dozen hedge mazes they could have used! Maybe it's exceedingly hard to film in a maze? (Stanley Kubrick did it, ahem). And there were times when they were too faithful: the scented candle line had absolutely no fondness to it whatsoever, it just felt like a really, really oddball thing to say.

Did Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway manage to convince? I think so. They both had the likability factor, both were able to get to the heart of their characters, and both made me cry A LOT at the end. I'm a quiet fan of Jim Sturgess anyway, I thought he did extremely well in this as Dexter can be such a tosspot (and he played a dandyish Hugh Grant quite well too) and he managed to bring out the vulnerability and redemptive side of him: or a man stumbling through life best he can. I loved his scenes with his on-screen daughter in particular. But Anne Hathaway - as adorable as she is - did what she could with Emma, but truthfully, it should have been a British actress. I'd heard word her accent is all over the place, but I still thought people were exaggerating with how jolting it makes the experience of watching her. But it really does. Some phrases she can do in a Yorkshire droll, but the rest she has to speak in a flimsy British accent with American twangs poking through. She didn't have to maintain the Yorkshire accent (not everyone from Leeds has one, y'know, wink) - her character lives in London practically her whole life plus a stint in Edinburgh. It comes across more as if she is mocking a farmer's accent, and you can't help but think her on-screen friends and co-workers must think she's a loony. There are tonnes of British actresses who could have done this role: Rebecca Hall, Emily Blunt, Hayley Atwell, Claire Foy... It just seems a waste they had to opt for star power to get the American market interested.

Other than Hathaway's jerky speech, it's a very English film. I loved the tacky Channel 5-ness of Dexter's chatshow; the down to earth geekiness of Emma's boyfriend Ian reading Watchmen or performing a floundering gig at The Fox & Hound; the embarrassing wedding reception karaoke and changing the words to Angels; but especially Dexter's father stating firmly that Silent Witness was on at 9pm. So keep quiet it's the landmark on the evening. Usually I hate tweeness like this, but here it really touched me.

I can see myself watching One Day again: it has that engaging quality about it which sucks you in. And compared to a lot of other rom-coms out there, it's sweet and affecting. But the book is better, and I'm afraid your man isn't going to care. If you have one though, you'll find yourself hugging him tightly later on in the day for reasons only known to yourself.

Friday, 16 September 2011


I'm a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, from the epic Princess Mononoke, to the adventurous Spirited Away, to the delightful Ponyo. For Arrietty the Studio hands over the reins from principle director Hayao Miyazaki - who still writes and produces - to newcomer Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and I have to say, it's my favourite of the lot.

It's just one of those films where I'd quite happily watch in real-time for the whole of the characters' lives - it is that enthralling, charmingly inventive and detailed and so involving. It's a wonderfully realised fantasy - a bit like how Fern Gully was for me as a child. I can only imagine seeing this through the eyes of a little girl and the transformative effect it would conjure.

I've never read/watched The Borrowers so know little of the story other than the essentials: they are little people who take from human beings, whom they consider frightening and dangerous. Studio Ghibli have taken the core themes and ideas from the British children's book, and with their own luscious and meticulous attention created an animated adventure story, but one that is as much about character as it is about escaping fierce hungry crows.

Arrietty is a teenage girl who lives with her mother and father within the floorboards of a beautiful country house surrounded by gardens, forest and a lake. They have been living undisturbed for many a year, living off the father's borrowing from the human house and creating a gorgeous home of their own (more on that in a minute). But their peaceful existence is interrupted when a young sickly boy, Shôcomes to stay at the house and spies Arrietty on her first borrowing trip. His effort to make friends with her puts her family in danger as the meddlesome housekeeper finds out, and threatens to wipe the house of the little people once and for all.

The borrowers house is AMAZING. It's the kind of place you cannot even envisage let alone dream about living in.

Later the family will become mesmerised by the doll's house Shô has in his room, but for me, their own one is far superior and desirable in every way. Because of their height leaves are like trees to them; tissues are like blankets; sugar cubes are like bricks. It's the fairytale element that grabbed me straight away - how they live beneath the rubble of floorboards unnoticed in a picturesque house where a bay leaf can last them a whole year and Arrietty's bedroom (above) is adorned with flowers like a giant meadow and she sits on a pouffe which is actually an apple (I'm pretty besotted with the apple pouffe and would gladly shrink to the size of a mug just so I could have one).

The amount of detail gone into telling us the story through the eyes of the borrowers is just incredible. The journey from their house into the human world sees them navigate nails, plugs and ledges with rucksacks of specially tried equipment. And just as humans pass other humans, transport and buildings every day, so the borrowers must pass bugs and insects, and walk over plants and air grates as if they are walls and roads. It's so thoughtfully and delicately done, and that is what I mean by wanting to watch it forever. You almost don't want there to be any conflict or 'story' - but of course, there must be.

Arrietty is feisty, resourceful and above all utterly engaging as the young girl who longs for adventure, for other borrowers like her to interact with, for responsibility. Her relationship with Shô is beautiful for how scared she is of speaking to a human being, but how desperate we are for her to trust him as we know he means her no harm. They cannot be together - it's impossible - but the friendship and connection these two have mean the ending is almost too emotional to watch (I cried A LOT when the cat brings Shô to her. There's also a lovely scene where Spiller, a young 'native' borrower clearly lined up to be Arrietty's future husband - sees her talking with Shô and lines up his bow and arrow to shoot, thinking she is in danger. It reminded me a lot of Pocahontas, strangely).

Whilst this doesn't have the edge and menace nature of some of the Ghibli films, its heart and innocence elevate it above that. Better and more powerful than Ponyo - which gets a little extraneous towards the end - even though this is billed as a children's film it had a 25 year old entranced and blubbing throughout such was its impact, and its 'happy ending' is far from Disney-like. Packed with characters and expressions you will only associate with Ghibli, Arrietty is one of the finest animations I have ever seen and will linger in your mind long after the teapot has sailed off into the ocean (the lake at the end of the garden).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: The Art Of Getting By

The Art of Getting By feels like a paler version of a better film it could have been, or perhaps, a better film that already exists. Its performance to me was like a hospital monitor, looping up and down as it registered signs of life: up when it hit a sweetly romantic realist note, down when it descended into blah.

Freddie Highmore is George, an 18 year old boy who finds life and the world utterly futile as we’re all going to die anyway right, so what’s the point of doing homework or graduating from high school? After covering for Sally (Emma Roberts), a popular pretty girl in his year, the two of them start to awkwardly hang out together, and after striking up another friendship with chilled out cool-but-not-really-cool artist Dustin (Michael Angarano) it looks like George has finally found some direction and meaning in his life. But then things get complicated (well, obviously) and unable to deal, his world collapses again until he’s forced into making a decision that will make or break him and his future.

Crucially, the casting of Freddie Highmore is horrible. He’s not a bad actor by all means, but here, where he’s meant to be portraying a brooding emo-esque teenager with an apathy for life, he comes across as a young boy in a badly fitting long dark coat (ba-boom) who delivers his “oh what is the point” lines with a grin rather than a monotone, as if what a lark this role is to play. Which isn’t the point of it at all. He’s not mocking the character, I genuinely believe he can’t grasp what’s been asked of him and it all fails to gel. And because he doesn’t convince he is not sympathetic, intriguing or hateful – he’s just there.

Emma Roberts -  who I actually quite enjoy watching as an actress – is better, but her character is so irrevocably spiky and unlikable that it’s hard to care about her either, needless to say their will they-won’t they relationship. In fact it’s hard to connect with any of the characters such is their inability to be part of the moment or incite emotion. The best on-screen dynamic comes between George and his art teacher (Jarlath Conroy) which has a sincerity to it that actually penetrates the wooden frame but it is scarce.

It’s not all bad – there are moments of authentic teenage interaction (I won’t say ‘angst’ because as far as the film strives for it, it just doesn’t have the depth) which I enjoyed, but they are few and far between and it’s all trying too hard. The friendship with the artist is just unnecessary clutter, whilst the melodrama and unintentional hilarity of the ending makes you despair. There was a point where I thought “if they end it here it will actually be quite beautiful” but then they tack on an airport scene – okay, I love airport scenes but this was just desperate – with an artificial painful “wistful” last moment between George and Sally which really does smack of a paler version of a better film that already exists – Garden State. In fact there are more than  a few references to the Best Film of all Time™ - the numbness of life; the awakening of spirit from meeting a new girl; the urge to runaway and sort your life out instead of actually grabbing control this second.

The problem is The Art of Getting By has to no gravitas to exert any of the themes it’s trying to put across. I want to say it has potential – it’s director Gavin Wiesen’s debut effort – but I’m unsure if he just needs to find his own voice and style, or whether he’s badly imitating what we’ve seen before. What he needed to do here was not to think about other films at all but of real life, and by being more subtle this would have been a film worth remembering instead of shrugging your shoulders at. Still, at 83 minutes, I didn’t feel too cheated.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


It's not often I'm speechless at the end of a film - and it wasn't as if I was clammed up with emotion or wonder, either. I was genuinely befuddled as to what I was thinking. So quickly does the pace, tone and genre of Kill List switch in the last 15-20 minutes that it's either an act of utter genius by director-writer Ben Wheatley, or it's a bold jerk that is too left-field to be considered clever filmmaking. None the less, Kill List is one of the best British films I have seen for many a year.

As I may have mentioned in my Movie Con write up I wasn't bothered about watching this film at all until we had the Q&A with Wheatley et al, plus three clips and a trailer from the film itself. "British hit-man film" doesn't fire up my juices whatsoever, but when you start getting fervent claims such as "THE  MOST GRIPPING BRITISH THRILLER IN YEARS", and, "WILL DISTURB YOU FOR DAYS AFTER" plus similarities with David Lynch, then I start getting interested.

Ex-soldier and semi retired hit-man Jay (Neil Maskell) lives with his wife (Myanna Buring) and son in a comfortable wealthy existence, but he is obviously bored - possibly borderline depressed - with his life, and jabs at his idleness and put-downs by his wife fuel his resentment. Then his friend and former partner Gal (Michael Smiley) offers him a way back into working, and feeling valuable, with a seemingly straightforward job in return for some big cash. Jay accepts, but his pot-boiled temperament and complications of the job soon turns the situation into an unsettling and violent mess.

The performances are brilliant across the board - Myanna Buring the stand out as the wife who manages to play it both strong and vulnerable. However the first thought that struck me was how Neil Maskell doesn't look like your quintessential unrelenting hit-man. He looks like a humdrum 40 year old bloke who should be down the pub supporting his mid league football team, downing pints to forget about his job as an insurance broker. And despite his shocking and inhumane bouts of violence he inflicts throughout the film on his victims, I still can't shake that feeling. It's when he's bubbling like a volcano as a dinner party threatens to demean him or a Christian evangelical with a guitar in a hotel restaurant gets on his last nerve that he truly convinces as this man who, for everything he's been through, cannot just succumb to conventional family life. His partner, Gal, does have the roughed up look you would generalise to have, but he is so much softer than Jay, comforting his friend's wife and also his son in a touching scene where he explains how "mummy and daddy are best friends and that's why they fall out so much." He's the rational and brains of the duo, cleaning up the messes made by Jay until even he can no longer stand it.

I love how these kinds of film are shot as well - bleak countryside, little music, moody monotones... it reminded me a lot of Skeletons but obviously more hard-hitting than that.

The first hour of the film is terrific - Wheatley expertly playing put the simmering tension and failings of a strained marriage and the curdling emotions of Jay. When the "job" begins it's as glib as it is terrifying, and the scene where they kill the librarian is plain unwatchable. Be warned: if you don't look away, the camera certainly won't; the horror as Jay sets about him with an axe makes you want to leave the room let alone crawl under your chair and wait for it to be over. The film intrigues with small incidents here and there, mainly centring on the intentions of Gal's new girlfriend Fiona and who she really is. And why do Jay's victims keep saying thank you, and how pleased they were to have met him, just before he ends their lives?

The pay-off is as eye-widening as it is throw your hands in the air baffling. You literally want to turn to your friends mid-scene to see if they're registering the same look of incredulity on their faces as you're sporting. Coming out of the film there's a million and one questions on your tongue that's so heavy in your mouth that you won't actually be able to ask any of them. Was it all real? Did he know? Why did he do it? What does it all mean? Is there really a demented cult haunting the sewers around South Yorkshire? Er, we'll leave that to the twisted imagination of Mr Wheatley.

Such was the impact Kill List gave me - which flies by at a electric pace - that I urge anyone to go and see it, mainly so we can chew over the questions still forming in my head. Any film which can do that deserves a lot of praise, and Wheatley has throttled an excellent performance out of his unknown British cast and has such a deviously good eye and brain for cinema. Watch out for the BAFTAS in February.

But a week after seeing this - and it's irrelevant whether I lost my laptop or not as it still would have taken me days to review! - I'm no closer to having everything click into place to see the true masterpiece of the whole film. And for that reason (I'm out) I can't give it top cheeses, but as Kill List baffled me so completely I'll thrown in an extra tiny chunk

Thursday, 8 September 2011

FILM REVIEW: Friends With Benefits

I have two difficult things to confess. The first is that this God awful looking film from its trailer was actually my favourite film of Movie Con. And the second, even more of a choking here, is that Friends With Benefits is better than Natalie's No Strings Attached. And don't even get me started on the mess that leaves me with my cheese chunks.

This was one of those "there's nothing else on" choices that we made, which actually turned out the best possible choice we could have made seeing as the secret screening for that evening had not even entered the culturemouse Filmdar (which you can find here, by the way. PLUG!). I knew it would be harmless fun, but I had absolutely no expectations for it whatsoever. Justin Timberlake playing the romcom "prince"? Who sings? Bleurgh. But then a fact, which if known to me beforehand had fallen out of my head, appeared: this is a Will Gluck film. Will Gluck did Easy A. And the video intro from Mila Kunis and Timberlake before the film started? Very funny - contagious, even. It started to look promising. And then Emma Stone happened.

Emma Stone is quite probably the most hilarious thing about this film, and she's only in it for five minutes, breaking up with Timberlake (Dylan) after he's late turning up to a JOHN MAYER concert. Such is her love for JOHN MAYER she ends the relationship immediately after he shows even the slightest indifference towards him. I emphasise JOHN MAYER, as after a while that's the only thing she can blurt out which leads to a priceless phone call scene later on when Mila Kunis (Jamie) tells her to stop calling and leave Dylan alone. "JOHN MAYER!"

So five minutes in and I'm fits of laughter. It bodes well: a great film shouldn't need to earn your credence, it should have it from the off and that's what Friends With Benefits does so charmingly, and so bitingly too. It's consistently funny, sometimes hilarious, and that's all down to the smart script and the surprisingly magical chemistry between the lead cast.

Timberlake proved himself (I begrudge)  in The Social Network, but with this, he's now established himself as a strong lead actor. Yes, he may be contractually obliged to sing in every one of his movies, but aside from that he's able to craft out a perfectly balanced non-arsehole/non-wet blanket bachelor who also shoulders an emotional vulnerability stemmed from his parents' divorce, sister's single parenting and father's gradual Alzheimer's, which actually makes him incredibly likable. He suits this role well, proving he can flex his range. His comic acting and timing is also a revelation - when he's rescued from the Hollywood Sign the whole screen was in hysterics. And playing on the fact he has "number dyslexia" is brilliantly done throughout the film.

Mila Kunis as always is a delight, and it's great to see her finally breaking out into some major roles after hiding behind the much maligned face of Meg Griffin all these years. Here she is sparky, vivacious, a little off her rocker, but she's immensely relatable as well (and so pretty to look at). It's funny how she and Natalie have managed to basically do the same role after pairing up in Black Swan...

The support roles are ace too - Emma Stone as aforementioned, but Woody Harrelson is fun to watch too as the gay best mate/work colleague, not taking it too OTT. A shout out too to the obnoxious snowboarder who's on-going random hatred of Dylan is a nice touch.

Will Gluck's script, dialogue and smart casting elevates Friends With Benefits from the bland genre, but it's clear he wanted to keep to the rom-com rules: only-would-happen-in-film cliches, obvious obstacles and solutions, and a predictable happy ending. But he is able to deftly and enjoyably sustain character quirks, habits, philosophies, opinions and behaviours, and this helps to really identify with and understand the friendship between Dylan and Jamie, before it becomes a relationship. There are some great pay-offs with a (non) Third Eye Blind song and a flashmob, which shows this is intelligent romantic film-making at it's very best. I loved the constant banter of LA vs New York as well. Gluck is one to trust.

There are lots of comparisons to be made between this and No Strings Attached, but this is better moulded, better executed, and is more rewarding than its "rival" counterpart, which when held up next to this, actually contains so much dross.

The trailer does it a total disservice - it's witty, touching, the pop culture references are spot-on, and the performances are a treat. These are lovable characters that you really route for - YES I JUST SAID JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE WAS LOVABLE. Shoot me now. Or better still, go see Friends With Benefits with not just your girly mates, but with anyone you like. Maybe not your insane John Mayer friend though...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Foiled :-(

Hello culturemouse readers.

Apologies if there have been no updates lately - this is due to the fact that my house was burgled last week and the bastard thieves stole my laptop.

So whilst I am waiting for a replacement (I may have lost the most valuable thing I own and 8 years worth of stuff but I will damn well get a cool gadget out of this) - which may take a couple of weeks - I'll try and do as much as I can from work. The Friends With Benefits review will definitely be forthcoming as that was written already from Movie Con (and is actually brilliant fun, go and see it), but other things will be slower arriving I'm afraid. 

It all SUCKS in honesty. I was going to do a Venice preview and a Toronto preview, but just don't have the resources to do that at the moment. Please check out what's showing here in Italy, and here in Canada. I also have reviews for Kill List, Arrietty, The Art of Getting By, One Day and The Skin I Live In pending, but you may not get these until the next millennia. Also the new US TV season is but days away and at the moment I have no way of watching any of it..... :-(

Yes you can send me all your chocolates now. You know mice prefer these to cheese.

culturemouse x