Thursday, 12 December 2013

Why A Movie Version Of The Last Of Us Won't Work | Feature


Fan made movie poster by zvunche


So it turns out the registration of www.TheLastOfUs-Movie.com and www.TheLastOfUsMovie.net by Sony was indeed indicative of a live-action version of the game. Deadline announced yesterday that The Last of Us: The Movie is happening via Screen Gems and Sam Raimi. Admirers of the game are predictably and justifiably offering their thoughts on casting, narrative and tonal aesthetic, even suggesting who might be a suitable director for the – as it stands – relatively esoteric project. I loved the game. As a writer and someone who watches a hell of a lot of films and plays only a couple of games a year, my reaction to Ellie and Joel’s final moments was profound. Their journey though the US, fighting off the Infected, making and losing friends and companions along the way, and the immutable bond between them will stay with me for a long, long time. I certainly didn’t expect to feel the way I felt from playing a video game. Games like Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain had piqued my curiosity but I never bought the whole ‘immersive Cinematic experience’ thing. But after playing The Last Of Us, I take it all back. I conclusively believe The Last Of Us in movie form would wreck the delicate and extensive ecosystem the game went to such great lengths to cultivate.

There is, I believe, no point in covering a song unless you’re going to bring something new to the table. Like the late Bill Hicks once postulated about struggling actors appearing in adverts, if you’re just starting out, fine I’ll look the other way. But established artists simply cloning their inspirations has always felt, well, uninspired. I feel much the same about productions hewn from the great wealth of non-cinematic source material out there. There are, of course, great exceptions to the rule. Off the top of my head, and since it’s topical, Oliver Stone took Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs’ books On The Trail Of The Assassins, and Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy respectively, and turned a confusion of ideas, suggestions and theories into an equally tangled but compelling movie, giving clarity to the knotty hypotheses via light and sound. Closer to home, The National Theatre and Handspring Puppet Company not only turned Michael Morpurgo’s moving, yet emotionally linear children’s book War Horse into a triumphant celebration of theatrical craft and ingenuity, but more importantly, deliberately sidestepped the very kind of sentimental shortcutting and signposting Steven Spielberg was to reach for in his 2011 film adaptation. This is my big fear for The Last Of Us The Movie. That Joel and Ellie’s relationship will be reduced to movie auditorium cliché and easily classifiable and recognizable lead-character blockbuster rapport, when the original affinity between the two was a thousand times more affecting.

This is, in part, largely due to the nature that one observed The Last Of Us’ unfolding narrative. Movies take place over a 120-minute running time. PS3 games (especially if you’re a soft-core n00b gamer like me) take many weeks to complete. During that time, you find yourself going to bed contemplating your last 3-hour session, musing on the ethical choices you made your characters (or they made you) take. When you’re not playing The Last Of Us, you’re at work, interacting with colleagues, reading the news, watching The Walking Dead, hanging out with your friends. All these things affect us, the way that we look at the world, and they affect how we played the game. And playing the game wasn’t a passive experience. We didn’t just watch Joel and Ellie on our screens. We took part in their lives. It wasn’t a movie where the grizzled hero enthusiastically spikes, stabs and blasts his way through the monstrosities that stood in his way. It was an interaction in which my Joel stealthily shivved, hid, or sometimes plain ran away. That’s what the game’s creators allowed for. And I did so because I wasn’t a square-jawed adventurer who laughed in the face of danger. I was me, and I was shit-scared. All the more powerful then, when cut-scenes revealed what Joel was thinking, or when new chapters began in certain locations, it wasn’t exactly what I expected Joel to think or do. It made me question ownership of the character. Of course, I had the controller in my hand, but often the narrative beats had nothing to do with whether or not I pressed Square or Circle. And with every brutal or heartbreaking shift, it’s as if Ellie or Joel could, at any minute, turn and look at me through the screen. “Just remember I am my own person”, they might have said.

I also believe that The Last Of Us took a huge risk with its ending. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here, but it’s an important part of the game’s heavyweight payoff. It’s not simply a case of whether the story was left unresolved or not – in many ways, pragmatically, it was – but what hit us the hardest was where Joel and Ellie went from there. Sure, theirs follows a fairly linear relationship arc through wary trust, unsure alliance, tested loyalty, gritted patience, involuntary commitment, and by the end, something of the deeper resonance you might have hoped for. But The Last Of Us’ final cut-scene proved a difficult, almost troubling watch. It forced you to question motivation, desire, even the unconscious desire to pursue one’s own needs at the expense of those we profess to love. And it was a radical, courageous and brilliant move on behalf of Naughty Dog. It’s just that it’s not very audience friendly. The Last Of Us The Movie won’t be made for Picturehouses. Sony won’t give it to Jeff Nichols or John Hillcoat. They won’t cast unknowns and make it on a lo-fi indie budget. It’ll be made for Multiplex auditoriums, and audiences who take their protagonists with the boldest of character brushstroke architecture. They’ll fuck it up in pursuit of broader gratification. They’ll soft-peddle the hurt. And The Last Of Us experience should leave you hurting.

Of course, I’ll go and see it should it eventually be made. But it’s like Harrison Ford said, sometimes you’ve got to kill of Han Solo as a trade off for a little weight. Drama is conflict, there’s no way around it. Only, cinema these days is intent on packaging conflict in as an accessible way as possible. Life can be wonderful and utterly, inexplicably amazing, but it can also be fucking awful, and The Last Of Us gave us at least the opportunity to experience this in the privacy of our own homes. How we individually felt, as Gustav Santaolalla’s magnificent score strummed and finger-plucked around us as the credits rolled, was a moment for us and us alone. Recreating that moment for a group audience, while they munch on their caramelised kernals and slurp their carbonated sugar-water, will fundamentally alter its power. Hollywood needs to stop with the incessant repackaging. It needs to come up with new, original ideas rather, than assuming every successful piece of art from videogames to novels to award-winning Danish toys is fair game for moviefying. Some things really, really are better left alone. Seriously, just play it and tell me I’m wrong.


This article was amended on 6 March 2014 to include the official announcement from Deadline Hollywood. 

An edited version of this piece originally appeared in FilmJuice.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

FADE IN | JFK

Replacing the regular (or not so regular) Screencap Of The Week feature, FADE IN treads a similar path, but instead looks at opening shots of great films. This week, Oliver Stone's JFK.


Oliver Stone's magnum opus actually opens with a pre-credits title card - a quote from the American poet and author Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Of course, it's a catch-all sweeping, majestic, and defiant statement that encompases an assortment of different kinds of revolution - and one need not look far in the current news to see how relevant the quote is a hundred-odd years after it was written - but the sentiment is fundamentally powerful and clear: blowing the whistle on corruption, correcting friends down the pub when they utter a slur, defending oneself and others against everyday sexism - there exists a necessity - an obligation, even - to do the righteous thing and to speak out. It's possibly a bit cheeky of Stone to hang such a tenuous version of events as depicted in his film upon the pretence of such a moral peg, but it also does contextualise and absolve the proceeding three-hour case as an honourable quest for the truth.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Vendetta (18) | Film Review



Vendetta, dir/wr. Stephen Reynolds, st. Danny Dyer, Vincent Regan, Bruce Payne

Anyone who's seen Charlie Brooker's Sky Atlantic show A Touch Of Cloth will have seen a super-wry and soup-spittingly accurate lampooning of our longstanding tradition of Police Procedurals. His show featured more staples than an out-of-town branch of Ryman: and they're all here in Vendetta - the oily, quippy superintendent, the plucky sidekick torn between his loyalty to his friend and to the force, a gangster with about as much menace as an unsharpened banana, a pretty ex-wife who inexplicably offers support, compassion and pity-sex, and of course the leading cop On The Edge, or In Too Deep, but usually Out On His Own. Which brings us on to Danny Dyer's latest, an urban police thriller, of sorts, of the kind that makes you wonder if either its makers have been held in stasis for the last thirty years and have emerged blinking into the sunlight with a great idea for a movie, or if they deliberately set out to out-satarise satire itself. Which is kind of a genius move if you think about it. Thing gets hackneyed and worn; thing gets pastiched and dissected; thing gets remade with a selective-amnesial, Orwellian attitude to public and critical opinion. The plot concerns Dyer's Jimmy Vickers, a special ops officer fresh outta Tehran, and back in Blighty to avenge the death of his parents, murdered at the hands of dealer Warren (Joshua Osei) as payback for Vickers Sr. interrupting one of Warren's robberies which resulted in the death of his brother. All the components seem to have been assembled from Ikea-like, off-the-shelf production kits: Aisle 16, Shelf Number 7 - "Urban Thriller Score/Electro/Gritty" (composer Phil Mountford had some spare gift vouchers, obviously), Aisle 9, Shelf Number 22 - "Colour Grading Software/Pallid/Gritty" (likewise cinematographer Haider Zafar). You get the idea. And then there's Danny Dyer himself, bearded, with a sleepy look on his face that blends fatigue with concussive confusion. "How come I keep doing this?" he seems to be saying. "Is this all there is? Isn't there something more?" Vendetta isn't a bad film, it's just hugely forgettable. It's a movie that became dated the moment the cameras started rolling, a film that offers nothing and has so little strength of conviction, clearly expects nothing in return.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

How I Live Now (15) | Film Review


How I Live Now, dir. Kevin Macdonald, wr. Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner, based on the novel by Meg Rosoff, st. Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor

Elements of Grisoni's Southcliffe effectively and chillingly course through Macdonald's Threads-inspired drama that concerns a nuclear strike on the UK, and its effects on a group of children. Southcliffe, the recent made-for tv four-part drama about a Dunblane-style Home Counties shooting, conjured atmosphere from the faithful imagining of an event too horrific to comprehend, and here, when the bombs do fall, everything unfolds with rolling-news-style mundanity. The moment of impact is especially effective, with one of the kids' pastoral picnics being interrupted by darkening clouds, an ominous and sudden pickup in the breeze, and drifting fallout. The plot, regrettably just doesn't cut it alas. Poor Daisy, played by Saoirse Ronan, spends too much of the first act being reprehensibly angsty and surly. By the time her character turns and steps up, not even Ronan's skills can turn the tide against her. Additionally, loathe as I am to compare the feature to TV, How I Live Now feels much like one of the more mediocre episodes from AMC's The Walking Dead -  a show that does unremittingly bleak depressingly, sometimes unwatchably well - but dressed up and scrubbed down for theatrical release. There are some clever attentions to detail though that do linger; the kids' farmhouse kitchen, initially warmingly brimming with foods, fresh milk and all manner of animals, is a perceptive reminder that as far from cities and skyscrapers as it may seem, nowhere is truly safe from conflict's reach. But the facile slo-mo, sub-vampiric cooing of Daisy and her eldest cousin Edmond (Mackay) had me frustrated at all the film's potential ebbing away with each wide-eyed glance.

Mud (PG-13) | Film Review


Mud, dir/wr. Jeff Nichols, st. Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland

The Twainish comparisons may ultimately be inevitable, but in this case they say more about Tom Sawyer's continuing ability to inspire filmmakers thanks to the enduring way in which it portrays adolescence breaking free, than a tired excuse to tie just another Boys Go Huntin' adventure to a weighty literary reference. Following on from the rather brilliant Take Shelter I raved about in 2011, Nichols' follow up film shares many of Shelter's themes concerning community isolation, fractured communications, and personal demon-slaying. Sheridan and Lofland play Ellis and Neckbone (a pair that could have easily been inducted into the Wheaton/Phoenix/O'Connell/Feldman clique without so much as a whisper of an initiation) who spend their days exploring all the wild and fecund Mississippi inlets and byways have to offer. On one such remote island, the pair discover an apocalyptic sight - an old boat moored high and dry above ground, stuck in a tree. To their surprise, someone has already claimed it as their own - a drifter who calls himself Mud (McConaughey) - and the boys are soon employed to run errands into town, deliver messages to Mud's belle Juniper (Witherspoon), and steal engine parts with a Fitzcarraldonian idea in mind to lower the marooned boat and provide Mud with liberating transport. It's a more ponderous piece than Take Shelter for sure, and Nichols' desire to show rather than to tell sometimes obstructs opportunities to take a deeper, more empathic view of the boys' relationship with the fugitive, but it's lovingly shot and edited, and its more meditative approach provides a calming respite from more overwrought offerings from the genre.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Betty Blue (18) | Blu-ray Review


Betty Blue, dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, wr. Jean-Jacques Beineix, based on the novel "37°2 le matin" by Philippe Djian, st. Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle

27 years after its initial release, Beineix' iconic Betty Blue is released in dizzyingly high-definition courtesy of Second Sight Films - a transfer that finally does respectful justice to Jean-François Robin's exceptionally high-dynamically-ranged du look cinematography that damn-near pops off the screen with clarity and saturation. My only copy up until now has been a battered VHS copy of the film recorded from Channel 4 many moons ago, but even back then, it was possible to see what made the film so enthrallingly immersive. Reception to movies changes as we grow: such is the nature of how we respond to the world as we evolve. But Betty and Zorg's hedonistic affair, carnal and liberatingly abandoned, only communicated its sense of intoxicating lovelorn escapism to a pre-teen kid such as myself. All heart with none of the heartache. As an adult, Betty Blue reminds us that commitment is a transaction. It's a compromise, a promise. It also reminds us the role those we fall in love with play long after they've gone, in shaping our lives, giving navigation to our meandering ambition.

For Zorg (Anglade), a beach-shack-dwelling handyman, life is simple. The breeze rolls in from the ocean, there's always an open beer on hand, and chilli bubbling on the stove. Then one day, without warning (for as these types of stories go, there never is), in walks the polka-dot dressed Betty, tired of the unwelcome male gaze from her previous job as a waitress, and looking for amnesty from misogyny. Béatrice Dalle, in what was her debut role, comes straight from Djian's original manuscript; pouty- and potty-mouthed with equal ferocity, volatile, vivacious and impassioned to the point of self-destruction, Betty is the embodiment of the type of contradictory woman men are supposed to want to be with. A woman that can devour them one moment, yet exhibit vulnerability and a need for protection the next. After one of her many tantrums (this time it's Betty's frustration at Zorg's subservience to his oily boss), she discovers the many volumes of Zorg's novel he's been composing over the years. She spends the entire night consuming them before typing up every page, convinced he's destined for better things. For Zorg, this casual fling soon evolves into love, a soulful and unintentioned all-absorbing union. But as the relationship rattles along, it soon emerges that Betty is more fragile than initially thought. There are hints from their beach-house days that a deeper trauma may exist in her past, one that initially pushes her into Zorg's arms, but for the most part, it is her bi-polared condition and Zorg's defiant struggle to comfort and love her in spite of it that anchors the relationship between the lovers and elevates Betty Blue to a higher plain.

But there are lighter moments too. The film isn't above slipping into near-slapstick moments of levity, as in a scene in which a billy-bollock naked Zorg attempts to pull out a sofa-bed with a comedy broom while Betty, equally de-clothed, enthusiastically sets about loosening the release pedal with a hammer. Combined with the authentic and intimate love scenes and breezy nudity on display, the cumulative result is a film that truly defies convention with an enviable self-assurance. A Director's Cut that adds an extra 50% on to the original running time expands on Betty's tragic descent from sanity and introduces a number of fringe characters, but the Theatrical Cut is equally concise and compelling. Betty Blue has aged remarkably well. Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Colour may be the current benchmark for plaudit-winning dramatic legitimacy, but Beineix' film and its remarkable performances from Anglade and Dalle lay the groundwork.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Way Way Back (PG-13) | Film Review


The Way Way Back, dir/wr. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, st. Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet

On the subject of projecting an outward air of confidence and charisma, and with leading provocation, Trent (Carell) asks 14-year-old  Duncan (James) "On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think you are?" "A 6?" Duncan replies. "I think you're a 3." Yes, one of the most striking things about Faxon and Rash's unapologetically sweet-natured coming-of-age tale, is witnessing Steve Carrell about-turn from loveable dick to (truly) loathable dick. It's a portrayal the likes of which recalls De Niro's particularly vicious turn as Dwight Hansen in Michael Caton-Jones' 1993 biography of Tobias Wolff This Boy's Life, a film that shares many sensibilities with The Way Way Back. Both feature tremendous cornerstone performances by terrific young actors - in this case Liam James - playing singular kids of single moms hauling ass from home in a bid to make a new start with a new man, too blinded by disillusion from a collapsed marriage to notice their new suitors' suitability or their sons' retreat into themselves. At the seasidey Cape Cod retreat, Duncan and his Mother Pam (Collette) hang out with Trent's dullsville friends and forms a capricious relationship with their neighbour's daughter Susanna (Robb), but it's at the nearby dilapidated, temporally stranded-in-the-80s water park Water Wizz, where Duncan seeks asylum from grown ups' folly. There he meets Owen, a man who's committed - Ron Swanson-like - to irresponsibility and corner cutting management (much to the chagrin of Rudolph's Caitlyn, the assistant manager by turns delighted and dismayed by Owen's infantilism). Duncan becomes the park's newest intern and in return Owen seeks to lift  Duncan to the 6 he aspires to. The rub here is Faxon and Rash's unhurried breeziness. The writing is wistful, but never cloying, mellow but never lazy. Owen has no real words of wisdom for the teenager, only much needed and beautifully observed companionship. There isn't even really a big finale, just an understanding between the two, and eventually, satisfyingly, between Mother and Son.

Chasing Mavericks (PG) | DVD Review


Chasing Mavericks, dir. Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted, wr. Kario Salem, story by Jim Meenaghan Brandon Hooper, st. Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer

Apple followers might have heard of "Mavericks,"as announced by CEO Tim Cook at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, as the latest iteration of the Mac OSX operating system, complete with a new tealed and epic wallpaper shot of a tremendous curling wave, apparently the first in a new trend of naming releases after locales in California that inspire the Apple boffins. Chasing Mavericks, as the name suggests, is a movie as aspirationally titled as it sounds - a kind of Waves Of Thunder - but sadly, puzzlingly, given the talent behind the lens, harnessing about as much excitement and cathartic exhilaration as the news of a software release. That is, non-Apple fans, not much. Odd indeed that from the directors who gave us 8 Mile, L.A. Confidential, Gorillas In The Mist and The World Is Not Enough, should emerge such a bloodless tale of surfer legend Jay Moriarty, a natural-born wave-rider who perished at the tender age of 22 in 2001. The trappings are certainly staple enough to conjure some kind of blood-pumping; an 8-year-old Jay is saved from drowning by his surfer neighbour Frosty Hesson (Butler, decent) and is warned of the savage and untameable nature of the rolling ocean. 8 years later, Jay seeks out a curmudgeonly Frosty, who, softened by his wife Brenda (Spencer), agrees to tutor Jay Mr. Miyagi-style - writing essays, holding his breath as long as possible - the "foundation pillars of surfing" as he calls them. It's all very predictable, even if the true nature of the tale excuses some of the more trite emotional narrative beats, and while the performances are earnest enough, there's a palpable lack of excitement not even competent and dynamic aerial footage of surfers cruising through tunnels of water and a rousing Zimmer-like score can muster.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Blue Is The Warmest Colour (18) | Film Review


Blue Is The Warmest Colour, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, scr. Ghalia Lacroix, based on Blue Angel by Julie Maroh, st. Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

Love, grief, passion, friendship - these are things we all experience in our lives. They play out over intensely concentrated days, emotionally fatiguing weeks, joyously untiring months or even relentlessly unforgiving years. Cinema has always sought to condense these time periods into a concise, manageable running time for its audiences, and great dramas have won their laudations by presenting journeys that flutter seamlessly from resonance to resonance, spanning chronology yes, but also portraying the temporal delineation of emotion in a way that feels natural and recognisable. It is fortunate then, that in employing an expansive and decidedly noncommercial 180-minute running time, director Abdellatif Kechiche has woven a thorough and immersive tale that vividly portrays the meeting of two lovers, and that has enough core narrational and performance heft to warrant the extended hour. You don't end up watching Blue Is The Warmest Colour, you end up living through it with Adèle and Emma, every kiss, gaze, embrace, breath and gasp.

The film's chequered introduction to public consciousness has been well documented by now; its big win at Cannes earlier this year when the panel decided Exarchopoulos and Seydoux should share the Palme d'Or with Kechiche, the film's status as the first award winner to be based on a graphic novel, the synchronicity between the movie's win and France's legalisation of gay marriage within a week of each other, the beaming photos of the three that followed, and the finger-pointing from both stars and director that followed that, each accusing the other of unprofessionalism during the production process. All of this however, is mere window dressing to the more pertinent question that concerns the film's quality and credibility. Firstly, to address the quite naked elephant in the room; the sex. No, it is not gratuitous or lascivious. To accuse Kechiche, as some have, of peddling smut is odd. The author of the original novel, Julie Maroh, denounced the sex as it appears in the film, saying "The heteronormative laughed because they don't understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it's not convincing at all, and found it ridiculous." Well, I'm heteronormative and had no problem placing the film's sex into the context I assume it was meant; as an informative part of the relationship narrative. True, I have never watched gay women having sex, but then again, I've never witnessed straight couples having sex either. I remain curious as to what "convincing sex" might look like. Additionally, surrounding ten minutes of sex, however graphic, with two hours and fifty minutes of intimate character observation that comprises long takes and plentiful and utterly absorbing inaction, surely qualifies Kechiche as the worst pornographer ever.

Kechiche is, however, wholly fascinated by his leads, and the ways in which his camera captures their detail. Exarchopoulos has talked about how close-up filming heightens the sense that Adéle and Emma want to devour each other. Particularly Adéle, whose story this is after all, and with Emma the more reserved of the two, Kechiche is fascinated by the way in which the teenager functions - not just the way in which she thinks or feels. Thus we have scenes that depict her noisily wolf down bolognese, shots that linger on her tear-streaming face, nose running and flushed, or close-ups of her nervously and impulsively re-fixing her hair. Emotionally, Adèle is battered and buffeted like a cork on the ocean. An initial attraction with a (male) school friend loses its appeal after discovering where her sexual predilections may reside, and the subsequent buzz Adèle observes at the chance of some kind of a burgeoning same-sex liaison with another school peer is curtailed when it transpires a kiss is sometimes, heartbreakingly, just a kiss. But on meeting the azure-blue-haired Emma, something stirs within Adèle. The knotty issue of a relationship between a 20-something student and a minor never truly becomes part of the film's central discussion, although Adèle's school friends respond to their suspicion of her sexuality with typical adolescent disgust and back-of-the-bike-shed prurience. Emma is, recognisably, everything we know fascinates those on the brink of adulthood. She is confident and self-assured. With her punky hair and sleeveless denim gilet, arm draped casually around her partner, and possessed of an easy swagger, she embodies the kind of 1950s rebel-cool that we associate with that kind of abandoned recklessness we know may be so mesmeric. A world away from Adèle's gameshow-watching family dinner times.

As the film progresses, the pair draw closer and eventually, engage in a full blown relationship. But the nature in which this is depicted is so subtly rendered and gently metered, we feel every aspect of the pair's ascent into love. Every facet of each stage of attraction is marked out and given room to breathe, held up to the light for close-perspective consideration. The flirting, the dates, the sex, when it eventually and organically unfolds, the meeting of the other's parents - are all given scenes that are meticulously detailed and eminently watchable. Distressingly, this also means that Adèle and Emma's breakup is as comprehensively illustrated. It begins, as we know these things do, through niggling doubts and nagging uncertainties. At one point, two parties are shown juxtaposed against one another; the first, Adèle's birthday, is depicted as a traditionally tepid surprise event in the garden, complete with cake and bopping along to Lykke Li's I Follow Rivers. Later, and later on in the relationship, Emma hosts a party in her garden, where her friends talk about Art and the clandestine exclusivity of the female orgasm. Even their families are polar opposites. Emma, sensing Adèle's Father's leading questions, diverts attention from her sexuality and the nature of her relationship with his daughter, while Emma's parents free-spiritedly toast the couple's love with fine wine. Adèle's is the tragedy of those keen to rush towards adolescence's finish line, hungry for the perks adulthood brings, yet unable to quicken the unrushed progression of teenage life. Her connection with Marivaux's La Vie De Marianne (the novel she studies at school) - a passion atypical of girls her age, and one she enthusiastically attempts to share with her male schoolfling - shows a yearning for answers she's not yet ready to experience for herself. In fact so strongly does this book, that tells of a young girl similarly inducted into the ethics of love, resonate with Kechiche, he's named his film after it in its original national title - La Vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1 & 2.

And on top of all this, Kechiche, along with his cinematographer Sofian El Fani, has delivered a beautifully presented film too. Emma and Adèle's first date is played out on a park bench, the camera shooting into the sun, capturing backlit strands of stray hair and dappled light through branches. The whole scene radiantly glows in golden hues. Later, Adèle revisits the same location, the Autumnal breezes dislodging the trees' leaves around her as she lays down forlorn on the very same bench. I suspect this is the essence of what has won over so many to the film. The glut of truths on display. Awareness of our physical surroundings, of our own hearts. How we can be forever altered by a glance or a touch. Our frustration with ourselves, with our desires, with others, those we love. It's all here, in all its agonizing splendour.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Gravity (PG-13) | Film Review


Gravity, dir. Alfonso Cuarón, wr. Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón, st. Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Unless you've been living under a rock the past few months, you won't have failed to hear about a little film called Gravity, directed by Children Of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, and the waves it made following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August. The plot is sublimely efficient and economical; during a routine spacewalk, debris from a nearby satellite hurtles towards the five-man crew of the space shuttle Explorer, devastating their ship and equipment on impact, and leaving Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) adrift and spinning out into the vast chasm of infinite space. What follows is ostensibly a one-scene, near one-take ninety minute movie that in 3D - in gimmicky, ghastly 3D... I can barely bring myself to say it... - works gloriously well, as the astronauts attempt to stay alive in their unremittingly harsh environment. Trust an ambitious, astute director like Cuarón, yet to misstep behind the camera, to create a movie that conjures deepest primal fear and most profound empathy for its protagonists from the most granular of elements. If ever there was a movie made for the immersion 3D always promised and never delivered, this was it. Out in space, with no plane of balance or finite perspective to lock on to, Cuarón's camera is free to drift, hurtle, spin and float with the action he synthesises, whilst Clooney and Bullock deliver powerful and flawless performances from the restrictive confines of their spacesuits, and of course, we're right there with them, as their hands frantically seek a lifesaving purchase and our pale blue dot spins and glistens silently beneath. Steven Price gifts the picture with an expansive and emotive score, and London's Framestore VFX impeccably sell the setting, but Gravity is possessed of a poetry that transcends its many technical achievements. The physical machinations of struggle for survival are augmented by equally rich and rewarding character motivations - particularly in the case of Bullock's fearful Dr. Stone, a woman for whom letting go is imperative if she's to hold on. And like Stone, Gravity too lets go - of convention, of traditional structure and tonality, of conforming to genre and trope - and emerges a triumphant and radical example of truly visionary cinema.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

6 Great Food In Film Moments | Feature


Anyone who’s been watching the recent NBC TV show Hannibal developed by Bryan Fuller, will have witnessed the significant impact that food has on the unfolding narrative. Doctor Lecter is, as the Thomas Harris novels have illustrated, a man not shy of cobbling the odd gourmet recipe together – usually from the harvested parts of his victims. Using lung, kidney, marrow and brain, Lecter flips and flambés his way through post-Michelin star repasts, making Hannibal as compelling as a Dexter/Masterchef: The Professionals spin-off.

Hans Laube’s Scentovison (a process developed whereby different smells that coincided with the action onscreen would be piped in under audience’s cinema seats – which made it’s grand opening and grand closing during Jack Cardiff’s 1960 film Scent of Mystery) has been the only real attempt at cashing in on cinemagoers’ other senses in an attempt at total immersion into the world of the screened film, but more recently, films have managed to use different foods and our associations with them in increasingly clever ways. Here are six great usages of foodstuffs in films.

1. Buffalo 66, 1998. Food: tripe


Poor Layla (Christina Ricci). Having been abducted from her dance class by the shy, sensitive and sociopathic Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo), and forced to pose as his wife for the duration of a super-awkward visit to Billy’s folks’, vegetarian Layla then has to suffer the indignation of eating cow’s intestine in order to sustain the subterfuge. Is Billy grateful? Like heck. “Isn’t that what you said was your favourite?” he asks. “Take a big… bigger bite.” Tripe is of course the perfect choice of meal for this odious family – the sports-obsessed Jan (Angelica Huston), the sleazily avuncular Jimmy (the late Ben Gazzara), and of course Billy himself, who goads and provokes Layla relentlessly. It also helps that Gallo deliberately chooses a lo-fi and muted colour palate for the film; the house has all the appeal of a tobacco-stained, badly composed snap from the 70s.

Read the rest of the article over at Spindle


Monday, 28 October 2013

Después de Lucia (15) | Film Review


Después de Lucia, dir/wr. Michel Franco, st. Tessa Ía González Norvind, Gonzalo Vega Sisto, Tamara Yazbek Bernal, Hernán Mendoza

Recipient of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Después de Lucia (After Lucia) finds writer/director Franco crafting a subtle and often brutal portrayal of familial grief and adolescent bullying. Following the death of his wife in a traffic accident, Roberto (Mendoza) moves with his 17 year old daughter Alejandra (Norvind) to Mexico City, and a new start. With a background in cooking, Roberto attempts to hold down a job at a local restaurant but finds his young sous chefs' trifling banter, unenthusiasm, and lack of experience wholly dispiriting. His daughter meanwhile, enrolling at a new school, seems to have been absorbed into a new friendship clique, but a rather foolish indiscretion on a weekend away with them leaves her a social pariah, and the subject of increasingly savage bullying. This visceral ordeal Alejandra undergoes is in sharp contrast to her Father's apathetic mourning. Mendoza plays his character as fatigued and listless, a man for whom life lumbers on rudderless. But it is the incessant needling of his daughter that's the most discomforting thing here. Franco reminds us that, as frustrating as Alejandra's detached inaction in the face of her tormentors is, for many, this is the reality of persecution. As an audience we sit in front of screens watching the action unfold, urging the crumbling protagonists we see to galvanise themselves. It's easy to assume certain narrative directions just wouldn't happen, or that certain characters would be more proactive in the face of their own desolation. Yet Después de Lucia manages to build upon, up to and including its shocking climax, the banal and unassuming way in which life unfolds with mathemechanical indifference.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Screencap Of The Week


The Village, M. Night Shyamalan, 2004 @1hr03m19s 

Ivy Elizabeth Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), the blind daughter of The Village's chief elder, prepares for the perilous trip deep into the heart of the woods as she seeks out medical supplies for the injured Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix).

If 2002's Signs signalled the beginning of M. Night Shyamalan's downward-spiralling trend, The Village surely cemented over the remains of his reputation. Considered "a colossal miscalculation", "witless" and possessing of a premise "so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn", The Village was critically mauled. Yet there are moments of great beauty in the film; James Newton Howard's fluttering score, a solid and impassioned lead performance from Howard, and impressive production design from Tom Foden.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Captain Phillips (PG-13) | Film Review


Captain Phillips, dir. Paul Greengrass, wr. Billy Ray, based on A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Rich Phillips and Stephan Talty, st. Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener

His supposed heroism may have been recently denounced, but there's nothing particularly heroic about a man forcibly bundled into steel sarcophagus-like lifeboat and carried off by Somalian pirates. Though astute and resourceful, Richard Phillips, captain of the US container ship MV Maersk Alabama, hijacked back in 2009, is shown to be rather brusque to his crew in the film's earlier moments. If anything, the extraordinary scene that closes the movie, in which a shell-shocked Phillips is medically assessed by the Navy, and the immense wave of sympathetic relief and cathartic resolution it evokes, forces us to consider heroism-by-survival. 

Equally astutely, the man responsible for putting us through the wringer is Paul Greengrass, a director who has made a career from crafting this very kind of skittish thriller. 2006's United 93, based on that ill-fated 9/11 flight, showed us, from a technical standpoint, what he could achieve with two hours and a reconstruction of a claustrophobic plane fuselage interior; here, he has the whole open sea to play with. And indeed, with his journalist's eye, his trademark restless camera and the ocean's rolling surf do not make for an easy watch. However, the efficiency of the US military response, and the speed and complexity with which they execute their rescue mission is terrifying in its scope and hardware. This is the film's real trump card - the chaotic balletic choreography of the pirate skiffs pursuing the vast shipping freighter like big cats attempting to fell an elephant, or Swiss Army knife-bowed frigates bearing down upon the bright orange escape-pod - achieve a near-unimaginable fluidity and orchestration. 

But the big let-down is what could have been the film's most powerful conflict - not the morally ambiguous clash between the desperate Davidian pirates and technologically superior Goliathic US military  - but the struggle between Phillips and lead marauder Muse (Abdi). Hanks, who portrays the defiant captain, certainly historically has the chops to carry off what might have been a richly complex and knotty meeting of minds as the two attempt to figure each other out, and newcomer Abdi summons an eerily authentic performance as the Somalian captor, just another guy, like Phillips, who must answer to a higher power, but Captain Phillips never truly delivers the contrapuntal scenes of intimacy needed to offset the large-scale nautical maneuvering that dominates the film. There are brief, snatched moments that play out the beginnings of such a relationship between the two, but the anxiety of the other three pirates in the lifeboat - a wide-eyed and panicked helmsman, the fearful and injured juvenile, and the trigger-happy muscle, riling Muse for leadership - crowd any opportunity for meaningful communication. Of course, we must assume this is how all it happened.

Certainly, Captain Phillips, like the leviathans of iron and steel featured in the movie, is rigorously conceived and robustly engineered, and Greengrass navigates with an innate, almost extra-sensory feel for pace and pressure. Sadly, after the 120-minute adrenaline-injectioned kineticism, there's a nagging feeling the rush was all there is.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Gattaca (PG-13) | Film Review


Gattaca, dir/wr. Andrew Niccol, st. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean, Gore Vidal, Xander Berkeley, Alan Arkin

Before writing The Truman Show, a film in which its lead character begins to sense an emerging conflict between the gnawing sense of aspiration and purpose in his soul and the artifice of the meticulously constructed world around him, Andrew Niccol wrote Gattaca, a film that shares The Truman Show's central thematic motif of a protagonist imperceptibly imprisoned within his own environment. But whilst Truman's gate-keepers are employees paid to keep the secret and toe the line, actively promoting the subterfuge, Ethan Hawke's Vincent Freeman is betrayed by his own DNA. He plays a 'God-child', a human born without the aid of the genetic selection which has facilitated an unofficial class divide. His parents are told at his birth of the statistical probability of his many defects, yet as he grows, Vincent develops an insatiable passion for the cosmos and enrollment at the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation - a kind of Wall Street-ian NASA - much to the chagrin of his Father, and in particular, his younger 'valid' brother Anton (Dean), naturally possessed of a smug entitlement at the very thought of the superior blood that is pushed around his body. But enroll Vincent does with the help of Jerome Morrow (Law), an athlete and a perfectly engineered specimen until a car accident consigned him to a wheelchair. With the help of Jerome's tissue samples, and in his new guise of a 'borrowed ladder', Vincent edges ever closer to heading out amongst the stars. 

Gattaca is ostensibly a very simple triumph-over-adversity tale the likes of which cinema has given us a thousand times over. The genre endures because their films are quite literally escapism at its purest. Not escapism to a twilight world of heroes and daredevils, but escapism from ourselves. And indeed we need not even look far into our own world to recognise the poignancy of one that has to carry around the cause of one's own exclusion. The allegorical allusions are profound, but Niccol grounds us firmly within Gattaca's utopian cosmopolis with a Noir-y aesthetic that makes great use real-world locations such as Antoine Predock's futurist CLA Building and Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist Marin County Civic Center, as well as smart details that range from the hum of the 60's-styled motor cars, to the double-helix-inspired staircase in Jerome's appartment, to the sepia-tinged colour-grading by cinematographer Sławomir Idziak. It's also an ideal vehicle for Law, whose stoicism and tonally anemic performance is a perfect fit for a disillusioned character such as Jerome, a man who was destined for so much only to tragically achieve so little. Aside from its wryly anempathic colour palette, there is little warmth to be found in Gattaca. Naysayers of the film will accuse it of as much. But where it does manifest itself, in small pockets, like the scene in which a pre-infiltratee Vincent and his cohorts of 'in-valids' clean Gattaca's roofs whilst the elite-carrying ships blast off from the nearby launch site, or the fleeting notes and phrases of longing composer Michael Nyman coaxes from his minmalist score, it suddenly reveals itself to be a movie that's so much more than the sum of its precision-engineered parts.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Stoker (18) | Film Review


Stoker, dir. Park Chan-wook, wr. Wentworth Miller, st. Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver

What a deliciously seductive cast of creatives - Oldboy director Chan-wook in his first English-language feature, a script by Prison Breaker Wentworth Miller, the combined talents of Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, a complex and ornate score from Clint Mansell, and the brothers Scott on board as producers. Predictably, Stoker is supremely nutty, but it's also sumptuously assembled, opulently shot in chalk-pastel tones by Chan-wook's regular cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, and with a reference-quality sound design by Chuck Michael and John Morris that captures every woodland creak, eggshell crack, spider-leg patter and refrigerator hum with a hyper-real crystal clarity. Stoker - a name that, as Miller has explained "came front-loaded with obvious gothic connotations" refers to the Stoker family comprising off-balance Mother Evelyn (Kidman), stoic and eerily prescient daughter India, and dear Uncle Charlie Stoker who suddenly appears on the scene upon the death of Dad Richard Stoker (Mulroney). Ah yes, dear Uncle Charlie, played with such disarming courtesy by Matthew Goode, occasionally out-Lectering Lecter, and proving that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain, and his impressing himself upon the Stoker household and his casual in-law flirting with both Evelyn and India soon emerges as the film's primary narrational thrust. 

If this all seems familiar, then maybe that's because Stoker liberally borrows stacks of the ambient menace of Hitchcock's 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt, a film that features another Uncle Charlie, who similarly seeks amnesty within his niece's glowing idolisation. Chan-wook, of course, manages to penetrate the deeper recesses of the characters' pathologies more than Hitchcock was ever permitted to do. In Shadow of a Doubt, the more carnal aspect of Teresa Wright's Charlie Newton's attraction to her Uncle is kept firmly in check thanks to the Hay's Production Code of the time, but had it been made in an alternate era, scenes in Stoker that juxtapose India's near-rape at the hands of a classmate, her subsequent and violent rescue by Charlie, and the ensuing moment of sexual-remapping she initiates when later recalling the incident, might very well have come from Hitchcock's lens. Then there's the film's centerpiece, a technically and artistically bravura stretch of filmmaking in which Charlie non-contactedly seduces India during an impromptu duet seated at the family Steinway, Chan-wook's steadicam pulling back and swooning in, Mansell's neo-classical score playfully ostinatoing back and forth. It's dizzying to watch, exhilarating in its heady and immersive qualities.

Highly stylized films tend to be, of course, highly polarising, and Stoker will madden in certain quarters just as it delights in others. Chan-wook delights in presenting a visual aesthetic that places the world of Stoker in anything from the 1920s to the 2020s. It is a world at once both instantly recognisable and blearily recalled from the night before. But there's also reservation in what he's prepared to divulge in the way of thematic material that riffs on nascent violence, genetic sociopathy, repressed sexuality. And Stoker, like India's perpetual mask of restraint, is all the more beguiling for it.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

After Earth, dir. M. Night Shyamalan, scr. Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan, story by Will Smith, st. Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë Kravitz


At the risk of incurring unfathomable derision from my fellow critics, After Earth isn't half as bad as you might have heard. It has faults numerous and unaccountable, but it also faintly carries the same stillness and swimmy off-key narrative that I have enjoyed in Shyamalan films past. Watching movies from his back catalogue is an unsettling experience. What others have interpreted as misstepped performances or inelegant dialogue I've always felt lent a sort of parallel-dimension mesmerisingly unearthliness to his films. From a Dramatic point of view his often non-naturalistic dialogue and offbeat characters have often added to the layering of interpretation and meaning, not diminished. That wonderful scene in the much maligned The Village, in which a junior security guard snaffles medical supplies from his guard hut, right under the reflected image of his superior (played by Shyamalan himself) is a great example. Of course he would have been seen. Of course the conversation between them is deliberate and unnatural. Like some kind of alien entity taking on the incommodious human form, there's a discomfort, a conflict, a disruptive clash of aesthetic that jars and unnerves.

After Earth does misfire spectacularly though, but again, I would suggest that the mistake is Smith's (Sr. not Jr. I hasten to add) and Smith's alone. As with the underperforming The Last Airbender, this is the second time Shyamalan has directed a film he hasn't conceptualised - and it shows. Narratively, After Earth stinks. Or rather it has no discernable odour whatsoever, and that's the problem. Overbearing Dad Cypher Raige (geddit? Raige? As in 'rage'?!) takes his real-life son Kitai (Jaden Smith) on a deep-space training voyage, but their astral-bonding-montage is cut off before it's even begun when they crash-land on an Earth humanity left many moons ago due to environmental instability. With the spaceship debris spread over a 100km crash-path, Kitai has to trek to the ship's tail end, brave the new world, and activate a homing beacon before Cypher's severed femoral artery kills him. So far, so video game. But it's worse than that because there's an Ursa after him - a nasty creature that hunts by sensing fear-omones. Overbearing and stoic Dad. Distant family tragedy revealed. Scared Son in need of encouragement and love. You can probably see where this is going, and indeed where the film ends up. But had this vanity project been tamed by Shyamalan, this might have ended up a very different beast. The story is engaging enough, and there are hints of that M. Night magic I referred to earlier; in one early scene, a shaken Kitai explores the ravaged crash-landed ship while a defective automated medical screen continuously wipes and pulls back across the screen. And while Cypher and Kitai's dysfunctional relationship is never given the prologue or coda it deserves, there's (weirdly) an interesting lack of warmth and empathy between the two that's enigmatic and frustratingly underdeveloped. 

Not one of Shyamalan's finest then, but After Earth will, distressingly, I suspect, prove the final nail in the coffin for a director who's been on the path to irreconcilable dismissal since 2002's Signs (incidentally my favourite M. Night movie). He needs to write something new, something that has that same disconcertion and conceptual spookiness of Unbreakable or The Village. It would be a great shame to lose this innovative and visionary director to bloodless films like this.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Screencap Of The Week


Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin, 2011 @0hr28m39s 

Cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) uses one of the collective's play-and-share sessions to serenade the group's newest addition - Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) - who far from discomforted, watches transfixed.

Marcy's Song, written by Jackson C. Frank and performed so memorably in the film by Hawkes, is the perfect sonic version of the hypnotist's swinging pocket-watch. It's a scene of immense conflict - the sincerity of the performance, the silent emotional transaction between Patrick and Martha, the free-range bohemian setting. The use of the song as the indoctrination's prologue is at once beautifully captivating and deeply disturbing.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Possession, dir. Ole Bornedal, wr. Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, st. Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu


Produced by Sam Raimi (what self-respecting horror flick isn't these days?), this run-of-the-mill supernatural chiller bears little of its potentially impressive Scandi-credentials due to Danish director Bornedal, or indeed much imaginative storytelling at all, preferring instead to repackage ostensibly the same trope-marked features of similar supine spinetinglers. Dean Morgan and Sedgwick play Clyde and Stephanie Brenek, going through a messy divorce, and forcing their kids to timeshare between the two. At a local car boot sale near Dad's new house, daughter Em (Callis) comes across an ornate wooden box, seamless and rattling. In classic eye-rolling tradition, Clyde allows his precious girl to keep the box, even though he recognises it looks like it was designed to keep something locked away never to be opened, and it's not long before little Em is coughing up moths, speaking in tongues and in one of the better - alas trailer-spoilt sequences - finding fingers emerging from her throat as if someone or something is trying to claw their way out from inside her. Bornedal might have conceived The Possession as an allegory on divorce, but don't be fooled by the higher-brow aspirations, there's nothing here that's particularly illuminating in that department. Which is a great shame, as apparently, the notion of a 'dybbuk box' - essentially a DIY Ghostbusters-style ghost trap - is based on a very real item that has a genuinely disturbing past according to those that have been in possession of it. But as usual, in a bid for commercial success that involves the bleaching of every new movie of this genre free of innovative features that set it apart from its competitors, The Possession falls wearily back on hoary cliché that is more likely to elicit sighs rather than shrieks.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Jagten, dir. Thomas Vinterberg, wr. Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg, st. Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Annika Wedderkopp

Vinterberg has dealt with the indelible mark borne by victims of abuse before (Submarino, Festen) but never with the allegation of abuse itself. Here, in his and Lindholm's astonishing and deeply unsettling screenplay, we find Lucas (Mikkelsen) a single nursery-care worker, a diligent and protective presence for the kids under his supervision, and a good friend and active community member. When one of the children with whom he is close, Klara, the daughter of his best friend Theo (Bo Larsen), unknowingly makes a clumsy advance on him, mistaking his fondness and attention for something alien and exciting, a sequence of events are set in motion, resolutely linear, with no possibility of reversal. The inhabitants of the small town near-unanimously and unapologetically turn on the wretched Lucas, his supposed crime too great a sin to warrant the chance of further rumination. The speed and depth to which he is ostracised is overwhelmingly painful to bear witness to, thanks to a credibly authentic performance from Mikkelsen, at once shocked, hurt, and then defiant at the sheer inequity and injury of the claim and the townsfolk who shun him. In a way, we are all guilty of the very behaviour that costs Lucas his reputation, for we live in an age when the mere association of a name with that most heinous of crimes is enough to conclude and condemn before a verdict has had time to be returned. In one particularly telling scene, a child counsellor brought in to interview Klara is seen to ask what sounds awfully like leading questions, and indeed even Klara's own mother, upon witnessing her daughter admitting she may have said "something foolish" that had got out of hand, dismisses her confession saying she's confused, and urging her to continue in her fraud. And when other children begin to make similar claims, it is alluded to that their own parents are unintentionally giving their children's assertions credence with well meant but misguided support and encouragement. These are people who have become victims of their own high vigilance. As Will Self recently suggested to author Louise Cooper on Question Time, why afford a disproportionate amount of time worrying about your children being victims of a terrorist attack: worry about them crossing the road. One would blame the Media but in Vinterberg's story, there's nary a scoop-sniffing reporter in sight; what is suggested is arguably much more terrifying - that the damage of wild and unfocused denunciation is done, and witch hunts are now, chillingly, self-sustaining.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Thanks For Sharing, dir. Stuart Blumberg, scr. Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston, st. Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Alecia Moore

It's a good time to talk about sex. The LFF is almost upon us with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave reminding us of the success of 2011's ultra-bleak sex addiction drama Shame (also released is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's similarly themed directorial debut Don Jon), David Cameron wants to filter the Internet clean of smut, and Channel 4 is about to embark upon season of shows under the moniker The Campaign for Real Sex in which a series of intellectuals contribute to a mass debate on the subject of 21st century sexual mores. Enter Thanks For Sharing, the directorial debut from The Kids Are All Right writer Stuart Blumberg. 2010's comedy-drama picked up Golden Globe wins as well as a couple of Oscar nods thanks to its astute thematic detailing and winning ensemble performances, and Sharing continues in much the same vein. The film centers around Adam (Ruffalo), Mike (Robbins) and Neil (Gad), both patrons of the same Sex Addicts therapy group albeit at different stages of the 12-step program. Mike is Adam's sponsor and adopts a defensive 'do as I say, not as I do' position when his ex-addict son turns up on his doorstep, supposedly clean, and intending to turn over a new olive branch extension. Adam begins a tentative relationship with Phoebe (Paltrow), and discovers that try as he might, intimacy and trust don't want to play nice with his recovering debilitating condition, and Neil, new to the group, finds a kindred in fellow sponsee Dede (Moore), whilst yearning for the approval of his sponsor - Adam.

Blumberg's film reminds us how trust and loyalty is cumulatively earned, and how recovery, although maddeningly within reach, refuses to be rushed. In particular, the relationship between Mike and his son Danny (Patrick Fugit) is sensitively played out, with both Father and Son discovering with much disconcertion just how hard faith in the other is to come by. Similarly, Adam's relationship with Phoebe begins with her explaining how destructive her relationship with her addict ex was - not the kind of opening gambit that makes you want to admit to your own compulsion, especially with the kind of deviant stigma attached to Adam's particular ailment. Blumberg's protagonists are falterers and stumblers, yet their imperfections belie an honesty, a desperation to operate within accepted parameters. But the movie also highlights how the unafflicted view bearers of the condition - with instinctive and inherent distrust and suspicion. Thanks for Sharing may not quite achieve a perfect balance between light-hearted whimsy and the requisite gravitas of the usual Addiction Storylines, and Neil's storyline in particular bears the brunt of this awkward abrasive tonality, but the film's baseline levity proves its biggest draw. Ruffalo is as good as anything he's previously been in, a disturbingly compelling actor to watch, and Robbins - like a stateside Bill Nighy - can do warmingly avuncular or pointedly disquieting on a dime. Even Alecia Moore, or 'Pink' as she is commonly known, turns in a performance of surprising clarity and compassion. The film doesn't pretend to know how to diagnose, nor does it leave you reeling - Fassbender-style - with the utter disconsolation of the effects of this particular kind of enslavement, but instead, it offers that rare thing addiction movies seem to have forgotten to include: the aspiration of hope.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Blackfish, dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, wr. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli Despres, Tim Zimmermann, st. Kim Ashdown, Ken Balcomb, Samantha Berg, Dawn Brancheau

A slightly less universally palatable but equally powerful method of communicating Blackfish's message of Human imposition upon Nature might be Doug Stanhope's 2002 routine about ultimate closing acts. "You're not a killer whale trainer...", Stanhope says. "Because from my limited knowledge of marine biology, killer whales come out previously trained." While Cowperthwaite's film never goes so far as to agree with Stanhope's relabeling of 'trainers' as 'fuckwithers', it does nonetheless push the previous Seaworld Trainers' talking heads' remorse and guilt front and centre. The story charts the capture and installation of Tilikum, a large orca whale prized for his obesity that investors no doubt imagined would return them - quite literally - a bigger splash for their buck. Tilikum is systematically bullied by the other whales he's forced to share his tomb-like pen with - something the film claims has left him overcome with some kind of psychotic rage. Yet even after being responsible for the deaths of three people, Tilikum is still kept in captivity, wheeled out for performances and mined for his sperm. Like all enviro-warning documentaries, Blackfish is heavily subjective, but as The Newsroom takes great pains to remind us, sometimes there just aren't two sides to every story. Yet there is a conflict between Seaworld's audiences, whom I suspect just want to take their kids to see some big fish or the trainers themselves, who despite little or no specialist skills, 'fell into' the job, and the film's inferred desire to lay all complicity at everyone's door. But this is but a small matter, and ultimately, it is Seaworld itself who ends up getting both barrels. The film is hugely compelling though. The interviewees are engaging and often emotional, and the breadth of incriminating stock footage on display is horrifyingly candid. But maybe the saddest thing about Blackfish is not so much the plight of the animals themselves, but how the movie serves as a bitter reminder of humanity's incessant need to attribute everything with dollar value and, and as Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, "slap it on a plastic lunchbox". A recent Tom Toro cartoon shows kids seated around a campfire, some apocalyptic city ruins looming dimly in the background. An adult regales them with tales of times past. "Yes, the planet got destroyed..." he says. "But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." Ain't that the truth.