Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Young Adult (2012)

It’s arrested development

Image: Paramount Pictures

You’re probably as well-acquainted with the Diablo Cody backlash as you are with the reason for her success. With many cinema-goers (not us, we’d like to point out) unconvinced by Juno and looking for proof of her lack of talent, her screenplay for the misfiring Jennifer’s Body was justifiably ripped to shreds. But after a couple of series of the rapidly-improving but sadly cancelled The United States of Tara, Cody has reteamed with her Juno director Jason Reitman for this scabrous bit of black comedy.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) was the princess of her high school. Now she’s a moderately successful ghost-writer of a young adult series of novels, alone and an alcoholic. When she gets an email with a photo of her high-school beau Buddy Slade’s (Patrick Wilson) new baby, she decides that she needs to rescue him from his small town hell and remind him that they were meant to be together.

Young Adult is a terrifically sharp, unapologetically dark comedy with a fascinating lead character in Mavis Gary and a fantastic performance from Theron. Only ever hungover and clutching a bottle of Diet Coke or plastered in make-up and drunk, Mavis is a bitter, lonely woman who makes a living writing about the popular girl in high school that she used to be but she is revolted by her home town and the vast majority of the people still living there. Only Buddy is worth saving. But somehow she ends up spending a great deal of time with fellow heavy-drinker Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a chubby guy who she never looked twice at who is now on crutches after suffering a misplaced hate crime in high-school.

One of the reasons why Juno was so effective is because there was a huge beating heart beneath the smart-aleck dialogue and wisecracking-beyond-her-years lead. In Young Adult, the film’s heart is placed out of Mavis’s reach. Warm, loving families exist in this world (Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) are an example) but that isn’t Cody or Reitman’s primary interest. At one point Mavis goes to see her parents and mentions that she thinks she might be an alcoholic. Her parents laugh and the subject isn’t brought up again. Even the genial Matt is literally scarred by high-school, drinks heavily, and lives with his sister.

But while Mavis is an identifiably human character and never a monster, she is delusional, vindictive, and utterly sure of herself. She knows exactly what she’s doing. The wife and baby are a problem, sure, but nothing that she can’t deal with. Despite all of Matt’s well-intentioned warnings, she’s completely convinced that things will work out between her and Buddy.

It may be a little bitter for some but for those who like their character comedy pitch black, Young Adult is a triumphant return to form for Cody and yet another winner for Jason Reitman. Theron had been robbed of an Oscar nomination.

A brilliant performance from Theron and an excellent script from Cody. Young Adult is a must-see.

4.5/5

JH

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Image: Liongate

The hype surrounding The Hunger Games has been unavoidable. Based on the incredibly popular series of young adult novels, Lionsgate is clearly hoping for a franchise of Twilight-like proportions (although THG is, from what we hear, very different to the sparkly vampire series). We’ve never read the books so we were excited to see what it was that had connected with so many people.

The future. America has become the state of Panem. Every year two tributes are chosen from each district to compete in The Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers to replace her sister, and is thrust into a world in which the tributes are groomed and promoted as reality TV competitors before they have to battle each other while the world watches. Can Katniss keep her integrity and win the games?

As we haven’t read the books, we can’t do a compare and contrast. We can only criticise the film as a stand-alone entity. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

The world of the film is an enjoyably strange hybrid. There’s the metropolis in which the games are created with its camp and insane costumes, wigs, and make-up. But the film starts in the outlying districts, where the people are hungry; bartering the animals they catch themselves and offering themselves up to “The Reaping”. So while we have Stanley Tucci in a blue wig and false teeth, Wes Bentley wearing a fantastically intricate beard, and Elizabeth Banks made up like a doll that’s already had too many coats of paint, there’s also Lawrence hunting and killing small animals like she’s just stepped off the set of Winter’s Bone.

It’s impossible to understate the importance of Lawrence to this film. At 140-odd minutes, the film is overlong and it takes itself incredibly seriously even as the (slightly) more outlandish science-fiction elements creep in. The committed, grounded and intense performance from Lawrence keeps the audience onside and involved in the story during any lags. The film works best during its first half, as Katniss and fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) struggle to reconcile their preparations for survival with the need to be appealing enough for sponsorship. It is, of course, a pointed dig at reality TV, where making a connection with the audience at home and making friends with the people in charge is just as important as any skills you may have or how nice a person you are.

Once the film takes the tributes to the woods and pits them against each other, it settles into a slightly over-familiar kill-or-be-killed but don’t forget who you are scenario. Lawrence is never less than magnetic but there’s a definite choppiness to the editing of the fight sequences which makes it clear where the cuts were and took us out of the film. Having said that, some of the violence is pretty tough for a 12A. While it doesn’t go off the rails, the second half of the film is noticeably less gripping than the first.

Lawrence aside, Woody Harrelson is also on excellent form as the bitter but good-hearted former champion, Tucci has a blast as the beaming TV show host, and Banks and Lenny Kravitz do good work as District 12’s image consultants. Hutcherson (The Kids Are Alright) is solid enough but makes less of an impression as the weaker Peeta, Donald Sutherland murmurs menacingly as the evil President Snow, and Bentley gives a solid turn as the games master with some nasty tricks up his sleeve.

It’s not a particularly unfamiliar story, but it’s an interesting and entertaining spin that manages to recall a lot of 1980s survival science fiction (and surpasses some of it) and, in Katniss Everdeen, gives us a heroine worth rooting for. It’s a bit long and it does loosen its grip on the audience during the second half, but it’s an often very tense thriller that is certainly a refreshing break from the typical teenage blockbuster.

The Hunger Games doesn’t quite deliver on its promise but it’s an interesting, entertaining and well-acted blockbuster that’s impressively bleak for a younger audience.

3.5/5

JH

Spiritismes: An Interview with Elina Löwensohn

Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

“I was a Romanian vampire…”

Appearing in four of the films in the Spiritismes project, Elina Löwensohn is the definition of multi-faceted. A favourite of Hal Hartley, she has appeared in an impressive array of projects, from Seinfeld to Schindler’s List. When I got to speak with her she had her hair up in a Helena Bonham-Carter-challenging do, and looked every bit as much the elfin and beguiling creature that one sees in her film roles. Her warm approachability and friendly laugh, however, set her far apart from her sometimes detached and unemotional characters. I began by telling her how much I love her 1994 film Nadja, in which she plays the titular vampire. Fortunately, it seems that she does too, and she posed for a picture bearing a suitably ‘Nadja’ expression. Udo Kier appeared, and I noted that this put two of my favourite vampires together. “I did a vampire too!” she called to him, “I was a Romanian vampire!” (Mr Kier pointed out that this made sense, as Count Dracula was Romanian, to which Ms Löwensohn noted that Nadja was Dracula’s daughter).

I had to check the pronunciation of her name (which is actually just as it looks), and she admitted to being a fan of Udo Kier too. Our conversation finally got around to Spiritismes, and how she had become involved in the project: “It is thanks to the casting director that was working with Guy Maddin, and also Guy knew the work I have done so he was immediately very open to meeting me. And eight years ago, in fact, I wrote him an email because I wished to be cast in his films. I even said to him in the email with my ego – which I have never done to any other director – ‘I would be perfect in your films!’ He never answered. However, when I met him this time he remembered that I wrote to him years ago. It’s funny, he didn’t forget that – I’m very happy to finally get the chance!” And was she angry that he hadn’t replied before? “No! No. But I did write to him because when I saw the films I thought that this is exactly the sort of universe I would feel very comfortable in”.

Her unique style certainly fits well with Guy Maddin’s vision. Originally slated for two days, she ended up doing four. “Probably because he’s happy with what I’m doing, I don’t know” she noted, charmingly self-effacing. Before our interview I had watched her working some magic on Udo Kier against a rather psychedelic back-projected forest while Maddin called requests from the other side of the screen, and a gaggle of tourists snapped away from all sides. Elina was entirely unfazed by these conditions, though: “I love it! The Pompidou Centre…okay, it’s nice that they support this sort of work – I think it’s great – but what I love is the universe [Guy Maddin] creates, and everybody’s inventing constantly, and it’s almost like a work in progress. This to me is not like the classical, conventional type of filming. I think that Guy Maddin might work more specifically but in a similar way in his feature films, and this is what I personally love!”

Elina Löwensohn in Nadja

I had to bring the conversation back to Nadja, and her memories of it. I noted that it was quite a while ago now (the film was released in 1994). “It is! I’m getting older…I’m getting old in fact! The major thing…the director of photography was taking such a long time to prepare the shots, and it was just impossible, and then I realised how beautiful everything was. The fact that we shot only at night, so we felt like vampires. The invention, the freedom – the independent scene of that time, which I have not met again later on, because it was Michael Almereyda, Hal Hartley, and that changed with the years”.

“Hal was my beginning…”

Elina in Amateur

How was (and indeed is) working with Hal Hartley? “He saw me in some plays, we did Theory of Achievement, and that was the first film I ever did. And then I did Simple Men. So Hal is my beginning…I admire what he is about, and I’m extremely grateful to have begun with someone like him - because at the time of course, we never realise when we do a project if it’s going to be written in history or not. But both him and Michael Almereyda, these films – even though Nadja is not known in France, it has become a real cult film – represent a period of time in cinema that today almost is nonexistent. Or maybe it’s existent with people like Guy Maddin, who are doing in a similar way, inventing and having the freedom to invent and create cinema.”

Elina works not only in different genres, but also different languages – “because I moved around”, as she put it. The last film I saw her in was Lourdes, released in 2009. Her performance, as a nun suffering with cancer, is particularly affecting. I asked if she had had any experience of the religious side of things before making the film. “No…It was maybe the sort of conviction, an extreme conviction in something spiritual, and the fact of the double sides of when we really wish for something spiritual and good and yet because of the extremeness of it we become tough ourselves. The one thing that disappointed me about this film – I don’t know if you realised it – was that it was not my voice. I did it in French, and they changed my voice. I was in the Order of Malta [in the film – Ed], and they were afraid that people would be confused about me having the only accent in the film and that God would punish someone with an accent…isn’t that wild?! So this was why they considered that it would be better to have it homogenous. But it’s okay…it was a very good film, so this is why I didn’t do a lawsuit or things like that”.

Elina in Lourdes

“This is what excites me…”

How many languages does she speak? “I speak Romanian, English, French – Romanian the worst. When I did, years ago, The Wisdom of Crocodiles, very different from Nadja – I didn’t personally like it…but people liked it so I don’t want to take it away – there I did the English/French, but usually I’ve not been asked because either I do it in French or English and it’s not necessary that they come over. Now more and more I do films in France.”  
I asked as a final question if she might have an ethos as an actress. “No…even though I might have more of an expressionistic or minimalistic type of nature to the acting, even though I never forced it or looked for it. It’s really simply the script, and wishing to plunge myself in the unique universe of an auteur, if that universe exists. If not, I just do my job and I get paid a certain amount of money (when I get!) for certain films that I don’t care so much about. But for those I care about, this is what excites me and what makes me give over.”

MP

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Spiritismes: Guy Maddin at the Centre Pompidou

Image (L): Galen Johnson/Spiritismes
Images: Martin Parsons

Sometimes in the life of a Wandercat, we stumble upon the most unlikely things. Our most recent find caught us completely unawares. We had gone to the Centre Pompidou in Paris to listen to a paper by Erik Bullot on ventriloquism and film as part of the Centre’s Nouveau Festival, only to discover that another part of the festival involved quirky Canadian director Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, My Winnipeg) making 17 short films in 17 days, right in the heart of the Centre.

The set

The films chosen by Maddin for the project are from the 1920s and 1930s - some from even earlier - and all have one thing in common: they are lost. In some cases these films have literally disappeared, crumbled away into celluloid dust or gone up in smoke in studio fires, while in others they never actually made it to the screen and exist only as unmade scripts. Among the names associated with these disappeared or unrealised films we find legends like Jean Vigo and Alfred Hitchcock.

Maddin calls a start on Day 11

Maddin has spoken of feeling the acute sense of loss that the absence of these pictures brings about, and in this project he seeks to raise them from the dead. Before each day of filming he assembled the actors to perform a séance, calling forth the spirits of the film so that it might be recreated in the present.

Maddin on set

The actors for the project were an impressively eclectic bunch. Headliners included 60s icon Charlotte Rampling, Von Trier favourite Udo Kier, indie queen Elina Löwensohn and recent Bond baddie Matthieu Amalric. Beyond these were a host of other familiar names, comprising both up-and-coming talents and veteran stars. There were a few whose presence brought more than just their acting talents: Luce Vigo, Geraldine Chaplin and Mathieu Demy’s participation showed a respect for cinematic heritage, given that they are the children of, respectively, Jean Vigo, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda.

Rudy Andriamiharinosy, Elina Löwensohn and Udo Kier
Mathieu Amalric and Charlotte Rampling (Below)   


The crew was similarly made up of a rather diverse range of talents, with Guy Maddin’s regular gang rubbing shoulders with France’s finest and a gaggle of enthusiastic interns, several of whom were studying at Paris’s premier film school, La Fémis, which counts among its alumni such names as Louis Malle, François Ozon and Marina de Van.

The team at work, here improvising a horse using shadow

This was a fascinating opportunity to see the inner workings of a film set – everything was on show to the public from the time taken to achieve the correct lighting to actor’s tantrums at being forced to hang around while shots were set up. People were allowed to take pictures (though the occasional overzealous ‘flasher’ was asked to be a tad more subtle) and the cast and crew answered questions whenever they could.

The project will continue with another installation in Maddin’s native Canada, and then in the MoMA in New York, but the impressive freshness of the concept won’t be repeatable. Maddin and his team and the actors created something truly special at the Centre Pompidou, and we are happy to have been there to watch it all happen.

MP

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Woman in the Fifth (2012)

Image: Artificial Eye

Author Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) is having a rough time. He’s come to Paris to see his wife and daughter but she won’t see him. His things are stolen and he is forced to stay in the boarding house of the dodgy Sezer (Samir Guesmi) in exchange for acting as a watchman. But when he falls for the alluring Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) his life gets even more dangerous.

The trailer may have sold the film as a mystery but anyone with a passing knowledge of the thriller genre will be disappointed by how quickly they can tell where it’s going. But rather than getting too wrapped up in the logistics, The Woman in the Fifth is far more enjoyable if you let yourself become immersed in director Pawel Pawlikowski’s (My Summer of Love) view of the city. He seems far more interested in creating atmosphere than he does in his story, which, given the flimsy nature of storyline with the standard twists and tricks, is fair enough. Ricks’ letters to his daughter describe the secret forest they created together as Pawlikoswski shoots close-ups of insect life, contrasting the fairy-tale fantasy with the indifferent (and apparently damp) reality. It’s refreshing, too, to see a grimier, less attractive, but no less interesting view of Paris to what we usually get from English languages films set in the city.

Hawke is an obvious choice for the role of Tom, an intense, needy American writer in Paris. The character never really transcends stereotype but Hawke gives a solid performance. The film is unsurprisingly stolen from under his nose by Scott Thomas, who slinks into Tom’s life with a wicked smile and some ego-stroking words. She doesn’t appear until relatively late but the relationship between the two is one of the film’s strongest elements. Margit is muse, lover, and mother all rolled into one. Joanna Kulig is given much less to work with as Ania, the Polish girl at Tom’s boarding house who is inevitably incapable of resisting his charms.

Essentially an art-house take on a B-movie premise, there’s less going on under the surface than the filmmakers might think, but it’s wonderfully atmospheric and Scott Thomas’s performance is predictably excellent.

Enjoyable but finally unsatisfying.

3/5

JH

Monday, 19 March 2012

Scene Stealers: John Hawkes

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The last couple of years have been good to John Hawkes. He earned an Oscar nomination for his role in the gritty drama Winter’s Bone, and many of us would argue he deserved a second for his performance in last month’s release: Martha Marcy May Marlene. Like our previous Scene Stealer Elias Koteas, he’s a highly versatile actor who’s done great work in indies and blockbusters. We’d like to take a look at some selected highlights of his career.

FROM DUSK TIL DAWN – PETE BOTTOMS
Despite working solidly in film and TV for several years prior to the Tarantino/Rodriguez vampire fest, Hawkes made his first big impression here as the grocery store clerk who listens to Texas Ranger Earl McGraw’s tale of a dodgy breakfast and escaped cons until the lawman leaves. Then we find out that said escaped cons (George Clooney and Tarantino) have been there the whole time, and an argument as to whether Pete tipped Earl off or not ends explosively. It’s a brief but memorable appearance.


MILLENNIUM/BUFFY/THE X-FILES
Hawkes spent several years popping up in guest appearances on TV shows. He’s got a blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearance in the Buffy season 2 episode I Only Have Eyes for You but has more screen time in season 1 Millennium episode The Judge, which finds evil Marshal Bell trying to bend his ex-con to his purpose only to underestimate him and fall foul of some swine. The X-Files used his softer side to good effect in season 6 episode Milagro in which he plays a Scully-obsessed writer whose fiction may be becoming reality. He also popped up in episodes of ER, Brimstone, Martial Law, and The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. Rough with the smooth.


THE PERFECT STORM – BUGSY MORAN
After brief turns as crooks in Rush Hour and Blue Streak, Hawkes landed a role in Wolfgang Peterson’s better-than-it-should-be man vs. storm movie. Sharing the boat with the muscular ensemble of George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, and William Fichtner, Hawkes added a bit of humanity to the bluster and the machismo. Plus his character got to romance Rusty Schwimmer.


IDENTITY – LARRY
James Mangold’s enjoyably silly take on 12 Little Indians is totally daffy but boasted a surprisingly solid cast, including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John C. McGinley, and Alfred Molina. Hawkes plays Larry, the owner of the motel in which the band of strangers take shelter during a terrible storm (Hawkes has no luck with weather, apparently). When people start dying, suspicion inevitably falls on the shifty bloke with facial hair who tells Peet’s escort that he doesn’t “like looking at trash” and is uncomfortable “with guard duty, per se”. Larry does indeed have his secrets, but is he the killer?


DEADWOOD  - SOL STAR
For many, it was David Milch’s epic HBO western TV series that put Hawkes on the map. Playing the business partner/best friend to Timothy Olyphant’s volcanically-tempered lawman Seth Bullock, Hawkes was one of the few figures of quiet decency in the blood-soaked moral grey zone that was Deadwood, and also had an enjoyably acidic but touching relationship with Paula Malcomson’s foul-mouthed prostitute Trixie. Despite being one of the victims of the series’ increasing interest in the back-door politics and power struggles rather than the everyday folk, Hawkes put in consistently excellent work over Deadwood’s tragically brief three season running span.


ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW – RICHARD SWERSEY
Miranda July has emerged as a love-her-or-hate-her figure but her debut film as a writer/director/star was something of an indie sensation upon its release in 2005. It’s a multi-threaded character study in which Hawkes provides the grounded heart of the film as the recently divorced father of two who is “prepared for amazing things to happen!” He also gets two of the film’s most memorable scenes: the opening sequence in which he lights his hand on fire to get his sons’ attention, and the charmingly flirtatious walk down the street during which he discusses the life of a relationship with July’s forward performance artist that ends with him being completely unnerved by her.


WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY - YANN
Goran Dukic’s adaptation of Etgar Keret’s short story Kneller’s Happy Campers was dismissed by some as being overly quirky but it’s a touching, offbeat love story set in a purgatory for people who’ve committed suicide. Hawkes appears as the friend of Tom Waits’ spiritual mentor Kneller, who arrives to breathlessly inform the community that Waits’ dog has been stolen by Will Arnett’s self-proclaimed Messiah. Yann is easily panicked, prone to getting lost, and capable of levitation. It’s an underrated film that we can recommend whole-heartedly.


MIAMI VICE/AMERICAN GANGSTER - ALONZO STEVENS/FREDDIE SPEARMAN
From indies to mainstream. Hawkes appeared briefly in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice update as a panicking informant and stood behind Russell Crowe a lot as one of the detectives in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Both films were underwhelming, and both underused Hawkes.


EASTBOUND AND DOWN – DUSTIN POWERS
Hawkes returned to HBO to play Danny McBride’s responsible older brother in the gloriously foul-mouthed Eastbound and Down. He may not have had much to do, but the two actors work well together as the sibling rivalry and resentment gives way to mutual respect and brotherly love. Needless to say, in the world of Eastbound and Down, such things do not last.


WINTER’S BONE - TEARDROP
The film that brought Hawkes the recognition he deserves. He received an Oscar nomination for his role as Teardrop, Jennifer Lawrence’s uncle with ties to meth dealers and a fearsome reputation. The viewer spends much of the film wondering when Teardrop will arrive, and whether he’ll help or hurt when he finally does. It’s a superb portrayal of an emotionally damaged man who is forced into action by some residual feeling of goodness.


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE - PATRICK
There’s not much goodness to be found in Hawkes’ latest. He plays Patrick, the leader of the commune that Elizabeth Olsen’s fragile Martha arrives at. He’s understanding, softly-spoken, tender, and seductive. But once that mask drops we see the dangerous, manipulative predator underneath. It’s a character that could easily be taken over the top but he’s always horrifyingly plausible thanks to Hawkes.


Hawkes hasn’t always had it easy. We neglected to comment on his performances in classics such as I Still Know What You Did Last Summer or Congo. With roles in Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut and Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic on the way, he’s only going to get more attention.

Next Scene Stealer: Patricia Clarkson

JH  

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Jane Eyre (2011)

The old-fashioned kind of Gothic romance.

Image: Focus Features

We weren’t really sure how to feel about yet another version of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel. On the one hand, it’s a story that’s been told many, many times. On the other, the calibre of the talent involved is difficult to ignore. We didn’t know what to expect.

As a child, Jane (Amelia Clarkson) is sent to a brutally strict Christian boarding school by her wicked aunt Mrs Reid (Sally Hawkins). When she’s 19 (and turned into Mia Wasikowska) she is hired to work as a governess at Thornfield Hall, home of the the cruel-humoured and bitter Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Slowly, Rochester warms to Jane, and she to him. But what is the reason behind his foul tempers, not to mention the strange noises in the night?

This isn’t a radical reimaging of the text, but it’s not a stuffy costume drama either. A combination of beautiful photography and clever casting has brought the film to vibrant life and any fears we had of a crushingly dull period romance were quickly dispelled. From the opening shots of Jane fleeing across the windswept, stormy moors, it’s clear that director Cary Fukunaga (Sín Nombre) has a fantastic eye. It’s a beautiful film that stays just on the right side of overly romanticised.

The script by Moira Buffini does an excellent job of condensing Brontë’s novel into two hours. Things move quickly but not hurriedly. We spend enough time with young Jane for her honest reserve as an adult to make sense. Jane is impressively played both by Clarkson as the forthright child and Wasikowska as an adult. The latter doesn’t give a big, showy performance but rather a measured, nuanced turn. She also spars wonderfully with the continually impressive Fassbender (last seen moving metal in X-Men: First Class), who finds a dark humour in his brooding, tightly-trousered Rochester. The supporting cast is impeccable, with Judi Dench as the kindly housekeeper, Sally Hawkins (Submarine) as the icily evil Mrs Reed, and Jamie Bell as the missionary who takes Jane in. 

For all the focus on scenery and romance, it’s good to see that Fukunaga doesn’t shy away from the book’s Gothic trappings. Scenes of Jane wondering the dark corridors of Thornfield with nothing but a candle are wonderfully creepy, and the adults of Jane’s childhood are almost unbelievably cruel. The revelation of Mr. Rochester’s dark secret could have been played up a little more, but it works well enough. The budding romance between Jane and Rochester does perhaps bud a little too quickly, but that’s almost certainly a consequence of the not having a punishing running time. While it won’t change the way you see Jane Eyre, it’s a very enjoyable reminder of why filmmakers keep going back to it.

This is an excellent adaptation. Despite the over-familiarity of the source material, it’s beautiful to look at, well-adapted, and excellently performed.

4/5

JH

Friday, 2 March 2012

Hunky Dory (2012)

Image: Entertainment One

For better or worse, the success of High School Musical and Glee has opened the door for films about students finding and expressing themselves through the power of music and, in the case of the latter, belting out renditions of popular classics. Here we have a very British take on the trend.

Hunky Dory stars Minnie Driver as Vivienne, an inspirational, sweary, drinking, smoking, no-nonsense teacher who is putting on a musical version of The Tempest during the heat-wave of 1976 in a school in Swansea. Will the kids be inspired? Will they come together as one despite their differences? Will the show go on? What do you think?

It’s all very well-intentioned and there’s a bit of sharpness to go with the more saccharine moments. Well, a little bit. But it’s tough to know who this is aimed at. The 15 certificate will put it at least temporarily out of reach for the High School Musical audience, and much of the focus is on Vivienne. Driver’s obviously having a great time and gives her best performance in a while but the film can’t decide whether it’s about her or the students. The kids have varying amounts of screen time, with Aneurin Barnard (Ironclad) getting the lion’s share as the lovelorn Davey. They have their issues to deal with but there’s never any doubt that they will be dealt with, and with minimal fuss.

While the music choices, including David Bowie, Lou Reed and Nick Drake, are great (it’s a little implausible that the entire class has such good taste, but we digress), the actual film itself is content to tread familiar ground. The characters conform to type too neatly (the decision to include a comic-relief dippy French teacher was a poor one), it does have its funny moments but not enough of them, and the cast is so full that none of the characters are explored in much depth. The young performers are all solid, director Marc Evans (My Little Eye) gives everything a nice warm glow, and Driver’s on good form, but it’s a bit disappointing.

Great music choices and Driver’s on good form but it’s very slight.

2.5/5

JH

Project X (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

A found footage film about a house party that goes radically out of control, Project X has arrived on a wave of viral marketing with a stamp of approval from The Hangover director Todd Phillips. Having recently been impressed by what Chronicle managed to do with the format, we were interested to see what a found-footage comedy would be like.

Well, calling it a comedy is a bit misleading as there aren’t any jokes. If there were any, we missed them. Shooting from the perspective of horny, obnoxious teenage boys gives the filmmakers an excuse to aim squarely at their target audience, which will be mostly made up of people who are too young to actually get into the 18-rated film. If you even have the slightest inkling that you might find that kind of viewpoint sexist, offensive, and actually just boring, you’ve got the right idea.

The three leads conform to type: slightly awkward but attractive Thomas (Thomas Mann), obnoxious loud-mouth Costa (Oliver Cooper), and chubby weirdo J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown). There’s a token attempt at a storyline and making Thomas likeable by giving him a friend who’s a beautiful girl (Kirby Bliss Blanton, who is the closest thing to a female character), but the majority of the film is footage of a party. This means that we have a succession of shots of people drinking and dancing, girls taking their tops off, people throwing up, and so on, but none of it is actually funny. At one point it looks like things might take a dark and possibly interesting turn, but the filmmakers clearly have no interest in taking that route. Or any route that might take it away from shots of naked girls, teenagers gawking at naked girls, and people drinking.  

It’s a found footage film about a party that you didn’t go to; populated by people you wouldn’t want to party with. It’s as irritating as it sounds.

1/5

JH