My week in film: Sightseers, Magic Mike, For a Good Time, Call… and more

The week began playing catch-up with seemingly everyone in the UK (or at least the hundreds of enthusiastic tweeters) who had seen Sightseers (2012) on opening weekend. Ben Wheatley’s third feature following Down Terrace and Kill List emerged at Cannes this year to great acclaim and having just last night won the Best Screenplay Award at the Moet British Independent Film Awards; it looks set to take the US by storm when it premieres at Sundance in January. sightseers-2012-001-chris-and-tina-up-mountain-posing-to-camera_0

The film follows a road trip undertaken by Chris and Tina (writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) to Yorkshire from Birmingham, caravan in tow, in the hope that Chris will finding his writers ‘oeuvre’ and Tina will temporarily escape her world of dogs, knitting and her mother. These romantic aspirations reach darker territory when Chris allows his bitterness and resentment to take violent form and Tina is soon enthralled by the opportunity to unleash her id upon the world. As uncompromisingly bloody as Wheatley’s previous work, Sightseers is also comically broader and delights in musical juxtapositions that render the whole exercise innately fun. Caricatures they may be, but Chris and Tina are also distinctly British creations that ring true as representations of national reserve abandoned in favour of unchallenged, manic, fervour. Chris is aghast at Tina’s newfound rage, a far cry from the ostensible rules of choosing a victim that he initially employs. Unlike other examples of couples on the run however (see Bonnie & Clyde review, below), Wheatley offers another dark comic twist by skewing the idea of lovers united forever in death – but I won’t spoil the ending for you.

I also caught up with a couple of this year’s earlier releases in what turned out to be an excellent double bill. magic-mike-0

Magic Mike (Steven Soderberg) and For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis) both reconsider assumptions about sex-related work (stripping and sex lines, respectively) with a focus on male/male and female/female friendships where business is a component of their intimacy. Despite what you might assume about a film about male stripping, Magic Mike is poignantly as much to do with ageing and the impressionability of youth as it is a fantastic demonstration of Channing Tatum’s dancing and Matthew McConaughey’s depth as an actor. for-a-good-time-call-movie-review


For a Good Time, Call… plays out like a rom-com only this time its female solidarity that’s at stake and the chemistry between Ari Graynor (the new Goldie Hawn that Kate Hudson wishes she was) and Lauren Miller is infectious. They’re also both very funny and entertaining films.



A new addition – though whether it will prevail is questionable – Phantoms (Joe Chappelle, 1998) is my bad film of the week and could safely be considered to include some of the worst acting and dialogue in a film that also features Peter O’Toole. One spectacular example, Sheriff Hammond (Ben Affleck) to Deputy Stu (Live Schreiber) “Are you OK? ‘Cos I need you to be OK, OK?” befophantoms027dh3re they take on the ‘ancient enemy’ in a small, Colorado town. The film does manage to provide some effectively unsettling images in the third act, notably when O’Toole’s Dr Timothy Flyte challenges the ‘phantom’ to reveal itself, only to be faced with the whole town’s possessed inhabitants staring out from the darkness. Live Schreiber is also brilliantly creepy and puts in a sterling effort to bring charisma to a highly derivative, Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Thing creature horror.



Finally I ended this week’s viewing in much the same way it started, with a couple-on-the-run classic, nay, the classic, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Arthur Penn’s highly successful and critically acclaimed cinematic account of real-life criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who robbed many and killed thirteen people in depression era America proved to be even better than I expected. What stood out for me was the complexity of Clyde’s feelings for Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) – that he is portrayed by Warren Beatty as deeply conflicted about corrupting his accomplice and holds off from consummating their attraction to each other until quite near the film’s end. Also a surprise treat was Gene Wilder as car-thief victim turned temporary tag-along, expressing a fearful glee at his captors wild abandon and shock on learning that is female companion is older than he thought – a nice comedic touch.


Also watched: X-Men First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011) a very entertaining super-hero movie that reminded me – through the ethical dilemmas and character’s identity anxiety – why the X-Men are my favourite heroes.

My week in film: The Master, Silver Linings Playbook and two films by Ben Wheatley

The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most talked about and highly praised films of the year, making it very hard to approach without preconceptions. Nevertheless, this was my attempted approach. A tale of two halves – two astonishing performances – from Joaquin Phoenix as psychologically damaged Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the man who thinks he can fix him, Lancaster Dodd. Anderson loosely based Dodd and his movement, The Cause on the emerging teachings of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology in post WWII America and certain aspects, such as ‘processing’ of patients (which Freddie undergoes) are akin to auditing in Dianetics.the master_water

Rather than a straight biographical exercise, The Master is so much more, becoming a portrait of emotional unrest and struggle of power, the narrative of which unravels and sprawls and happily doesn’t provide a neat conclusion. There’s something unreachable about the characters, perhaps because Anderson doesn’t ever suggest that their actions will have the kind of consequences we might expect from a conventional narrative. We see Dodd take Freddie under his wing and the latter’s steadfast loyalty would suggest that his susceptibility might allow him to change, but what kind of change can be expected from such aggressive methods?THE MASTER

The two leads aside, Amy Adams is compelling as Dodd’s wife Peggy: a woman who appears to follow her husband’s lead only to reveal her true power in the final act. Peggy is perhaps the true Master, able to control her ‘base’ urges more convincingly than Dodd, whose outbursts when confronted only show his similarity with Freddie. I can’t say that The Master had the same emotionally confrontational effect on me that Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007) or Magnolia (1999) did  – despite all three films having in common central, powerhouse, male performances – but its certainly a thought provoking, beautiful, more challenging film than the average. Perhaps a second viewing (in Anderson’s preferred format, 70mm) will enrich my appreciation.

Down-TerraceAhead of the release of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers I caught up with all the enthusiasts of his previous films and watched Down Terrace (2009) and Kill List (2011). The formers’ blue grey palette, naturalistic performances and documentary style camera work make for a fresh and unnerving viewing experience. Centred around a crime family – mother Maggie (Julia Deakin), father Bill (Robert Hill), and son Karl (Robin Hill) and beginning with the release of the latter two from jail, the plot concerns the unravelling of the family’s trust in their network of associates and friends as they suspect each of informing on them to the police. Set mostly in the interior of the family home, much of the black comedy comes from the incongruity of combining British home life with the ‘necessary violence’ enacted to maintain the family’s code of retaliation.

Kill-List-007Kill List also uses a family dynamic to contrast domestic banality with psychological torment and horrific cruelty – this time carried out by Jay (Neil Maskell) alongside friend and fellow hit man Gal (Michael Smiley, also in Down Terrace) as they set about a three-kill job. Leaving wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) with their son Sam (Harry Simpson), in their well-furnished home whilst he undertakes the job that will solve their money trouble, Jay and Gal begin to question the nature of the task in hand, resulting in an altogether more dense and unsettling – even scary – trail of murder and revenge. Original music by Jim Williams is uncompromisingly uncomfortable, constantly maintaining the tension of an unexpected threat. This, combined with some deft framing and editing, not to mention brilliant performances make for an impressive viewing experience and a film that lingers after the credits have rolled. I’ve no reason to doubt that Sightseers will live up to its positive acclaim.

silver-linings-playbook-trailerOn current release is the charming and engaging Silver Linings Playbook directed by David O. Russell, who – it could be argued – has rejuvenated the romantic comedy here in the same way he added edge to the boxing drama with 2011’s The Fighter. Actually Silver Linings Playbook has more in common with the director’s screwball, existential crisis comedy, I Heart Huckabees (2004) as Bradley Cooper plays recently diagnosed bi-polar, Pat, attempting to improve his mental and physical health after a spell in a psychiatric hospital. Agreeing to partner the also troubled Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in a dance contest, in exchange for her help in contacting his estranged wife, Pat shares a determination and single-mindedness much like Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) in Huckabees. The relationship between widowed, raw, Tiffany and initially oblivious Pat, and all their Psychiatric-jargon infused exchanges is similar to that of Tommy’s ‘other’ Albert (Jason Schwartzman), as each must benefit from their interactions: Tiffany wants to break her habit of generosity without reciprocation.

In this way, Silver Linings Playbook is better considered as a compassionate comedy about the human condition, even if this does belie the inevitability of its romantic comedy conventions. Oh, and Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are brilliant as Pat’s parents.

the-world-of-apuThis week saw my completion of The Apu Trilogy with Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu (1959). The previous films Pather Panchali (1955) and Aparajito (1956) concern Apu’s childhood years living in relative poverty (a state that he never really manages to escape) with his family, and following this, his entry into education and discovery of science. It would be foolish to attempt to summarise the myriad moments of excellence in these three films, suffice to say if you like Ozu or Renoir, Ray’s most famous trilogy is essential viewing, demonstrating him as a filmmaker of true humanity and skill.

Foregoing exhaustive reviews of every film seen this week, but sticking to the journal format, a small list of the others – which demonstrate a soft spot for schmaltz – should suffice:

Men in Black 3, Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012

The Mighty Ducks, Stephen Herek, 1992

D2: The Mighty Ducks, Sam Weisman, 1994

WAL·E, Andrew Stanton, 2008