Monday, 27 August 2012

SUMMER 2012 REVIEW: The Indies

Your Sister's Sister
This feels like it's been on the festival circuit an age, but now I've finally gotten to see Lynn Shelton's new film about Jack (Mark Duplass) still grieving for his late brother take up best friend Iris's (Emily Blunt) offer of staying in her father's old cabin to get some much needed head space. But when he gets there he finds Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) instead, who's got her own problems. The two of them bond over Tequila, and after spilling some drunken secrets end up sleeping together - though Hannah is a lesbian -but a seemingly off the cuff moment bears repercussions as Iris unexpectedly turns up the next day, planning to tell Jack that she's in love with him, and Hannah is revealed to have a hidden agenda. If you have a sister yourself you are going to strongly connect to this film, in a deeply emotional way that only family connections can (see Brave!). There's a moment when all the secrets tumble out and the threeway genial dynamic is destroyed, leaving Iris torn between her sister, whom she adores and looks up to, and her best friend whom she has fallen in love with, and how to react to the two of them - where does her strongest bond lie, and does she find it most difficult to forgive Jack because she is closer to him, or because he isn't family like Hannah is, and there isn't that instinctive need to re-connect? The slow rebuilding of relationships is perfectly done, and had me crying A LOT when Jack makes his speech to both the sisters. Leading up to that, the film is playful, funny and the characters - and actors - are so at ease with one another the largely improvised conversations work a treat - particularly loved all the scenes in the kitchen when they are preparing food (horrible vegan food!). Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt could totally be sisters too - inspired casting. This was my first Duplass film too (as an actor) and I thought he played the endearing dork really well. The only bum note was the added layer of having Hannah use a faulty condom because she's desperately trying to have a baby - if they needed something more to flesh the story out, which I don't think they did, then don't make it completely ridiculous. The open ending was the only way they could get out of it - signs of digging a hole too deep and realising you put the spade in the wrong place.

Killer Joe
The second collaboration between director William Friedkin and playwright Tracy Letts is just as riveting and nasty as 2006's Bug, if only lacking a satisfying ending. Waster of a white trash family in rural Texas, Chris (Emile Hirsch) is being chased down by a local drug gang whom he owes a lot of money to. Trying unsuccessfully to get money out of his father (Thomas Haden Church) and his wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), he instead comes up with a plan to bump off his estranged mother who has apparently named his sister Dotty (Juno Temple) as beneficiary to her $50,000 life insurance. And he knows just the person to do it for them as well - corrupt detective 'Killer' Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) - but when the desperate family are unable to pay upfront, Joe takes an interest in Dotty as his 'retainer'. This film has divided so many people, with the tone being sickly gruesome and the humour -as this film pushes the plot to its extreme - pitch black. There is one infamous chicken scene that has led to walkouts, but considering this happens in the film's claustrophobic climax, if you've stuck with the film for that long then you stomach what you chew - chicken has never been so tasteless, but never been so talked about! I had fair warning, so had already pushed the boundaries in my head with where it could go, so the reality in itself though uncomfortable viewing was not nearly as bad as I had imagined! Having seen Bug earlier in the year (with the brilliantly psycho Michael Shannon) I came into Killer Joe pre-disposed to the dirt, and the violence, and the sheer torture Letts puts his characters through. It is difficult to watch in places - particularly Joe's seduction of the virginal and vulnerable Dotty - Juno Temple at her finest - and the very ending when Friedkin doesn't let up on the graphic audacity of the messed up people in the trailer. They're a good match these two - though you can tell throughout that this is a play, Friedkin translates that to the screen with the atmospheric revulsion and the boldness of the cast makes the ride distastefully entertaining - in fact I'd consider it as one of my favourite films of the year so far (what that says about my disposition, I don't know!). The twist is inevitable of this poisonous family, pulled out by a assertive and charming but utterly deranged Joe, and it's too bad the tension which shifts to playful but troubled Dotty - "don't get me mad" - descends into chaos rather than reward. Still, Killer Joe will stick with you whether you have an uneasy bad taste in your mouth for several days afterward or a feeling of wicked joy - luckily I'm a vegetarian so I don't have to face a drumstick again.

Seeking a Friend For the End of the World
OK, so this film wasn't on my radar not particularly being a fan of either Carrell or Knightley, but then came to my attention when I realised it a) was written and directed by Lorene Scarfaria, who was responsible for the delightfully funny and life affirming Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and b) it has Gillian Jacobs in, only my most favourite person in the entire world right now with her cutest dimples and expectant face (shut up, now). And there was promise of some other great cameos as well with Patton Oswalt and Bob Stephenson, so I went along to take my chances. And I hated it - God I hated it, for about an hour the tone was all over the place, Knightley's Manic Pixie Dream Girl was grating and her comic timing woefully short, and the episodic structure awkward and unfunny. I just didn't get it, and was waiting desperately for miss Gillian to show up, which she eventually did (above) as a crazy waitress ("why didn't you tell me that? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!") which livened me up somewhat for five minutes before the film blathered around for a little bit more. It's only when the film has finished with its haphazard antics and wacky adventures - couple run into hit men, couple get arrested, couple end up in a macho bomb shelter (I'm not even sure why they have a dog with them for the most of it) - that we start to finally get somewhere with these characters, and their inevitable falling for one another. But it's so sweetly done - the scenes on the beach, when Knightley waxes lyrical - ahem - about her love of vinyl and her life back at home in England - the touching bond between these two wins you over. There's a moment when the film is given an ending - and ending that would have satisfied the majority of people, but the fact it then continues means we're going to get the final reconciliation between the two. The last 15 minutes are extraordinary - the impending apocalypse has until this moment been treated with an air of novelty and excitement, and it's only when the things you rely on - the newsreader signing off hours before the comet hits and the empty beep of the TV just flatlining pierces straight through you - disappear that you realise its just you and death. Probably the most frightening way to die, and the final scene on the bed reduced me to such a wreck I had to sit through the majority of the credits wondering how to escape to the toilets without being seen looking like a crazed mess. Immensely affecting - I left with a strange sense of loss in a daze - I'm afraid I'm failing to emphasise with those who came out feeling comforted! A beautiful ending and eventual triumph by Carrell, as good here as he is in Little Miss Sunshine, and Knightley, though she should stick to the drama as that's where she excels, more than makes up for the rough ride which precedes it. Never has a film won me over so completely when I wanted to walk out halfway through.

Sound of My Voice
Ever since last year's Another Earth I have been keeping my eye on Brit Marling, though her cult drama where she plays a mysterious leader claiming to be from the future attracted my attention from the off when it premiered at Sundance last year, alongside similarly themed Martha Marcy May Marlene. Couple and documentary makers Peter and Lorna have initiated themselves into this underground group, which meets in an unknown location (they are blindfolded on the drive) once a week, where Maggie (Marling), dressed all in white and seemingly unable to function properly without a breathing tube and specially grown food, speaks to them of her story and her message. She says she awoke with no memory of who she was, in a bathtub, and with very little energy. When her life finally comes back to her, she realises she has travelled back in time, from a point in the future where the world has descended into war and famine, and her purpose is to warn the people in the present of the coming terrors. How her group of followers have been selected is not explained, but sceptics Peter and Lorna adopt the strange rituals of the cult - showering, fasting, a special handshake - to blend in, but with the intent of secretly filming the activities in the hope of exposing Maggie as a fake. Whilst Lorna remains focused on the job, Peter's relationship with Maggie becomes more intense as she breaks him down during therapy sessions, and shows a sudden kinship and faith in him, asking him to perform a task for her which results in the final climax of the film, and the unravelling of Maggie. It's compelling throughout, from the first scene where Peter and Lorna soundlessly make their way to the cult's secret meeting place under heavy guard from Maggie's right hand associates, to the bizarre cut away scenes that have no apparent relation to the narrative with a young girl outcast by her classmates and an FBI agent who is seen thoroughly bugging a hotel room. How this is all ties together is very clever, but the story has too many loose threads to successfully create a neat conclusion, and - it's main fault - the whole thing is just too short. At 85 minutes it flies by, and with sketchily drawn characters and frustrating non sequiturs, you're left with too many questions that could have been eliminated if only there had been another 20 minutes or so. Peter and Lorna's long relationship is told to us by Maggie through VTs, and this is not enough to make you relate to them, or connect with them as they fight over Maggie and their intentions and ambitions. And the final scene - which suggests the audience has been fooled all along - is tenuous, not smart enough to justify a fulfilling twist. Strange and puzzling, Sound of My Voice is intriguingly different but the docu style of it will leave you feeling detached, and with writing less sharp than on Marling's Another Earth. A funny one to ponder, but ultimately lacks the staying power to truly distract you.

Having thoroughly enjoyed this Summer's earlier Scandinavian crime caper Headhunters I was back for more with another adaptation of best selling novelist Jo Nesbo's work - this one done previously, but given a belated release date over here due to the former's success - Jackpot, in which a group of ex convicts and their duty manager win big on the pools, but then are unable to amicably share it out. And that's putting it mildly! Having not read any of Nesbo's books I'm beginning to realise why he's so popular, with an ingenious mind for inventive and blackly comic plot devices and twists, and adept at littering the narrative with deft touches to enhance the story which later turn out to be the breadcrumbs to working out the entire convoluted, rousing plot. The story is told to us in flashback, after Oscar (Kyree Hellum, who was in the brilliant North, and why are all the protagonists in these adaptations variations of Steve Buscemi?) is arrested by police, the only survivor in a shootout at a lap dance club. As we hear what happened from Oscar's viewpoint, under the eagle eyes of the infuriating police detective (Henrik Mestad), at the start we have no doubt this is our hero and he is telling the truth, but as the story goes on... could we be as fooled as the detective is? Perhaps it's the clumsy nature of these buffoons, but the film does drag in places and it's not as instantly enjoyable as Headhuters, where the stakes were much higher. But it shares the same DNA and remains entertaining throughout, picking up the pace in the final third where we get the obligatory double bluffs and crossings, all precisely done, with a satisfying ending - even if the landlord was playing it a bit too Ricky Gervais. It's bloody and gory, and leaves you baffled and bemused at the dark sense of humour possessed in the northern icy lands and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments. A strong follow up to a refreshingly egregious screwball genre.

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