My week in film: Mud and more…

Recently it’s been very hard for me to keep up a weekly cinematic investigation: ‘My week in film…’ due mainly to my commitments at work (EIFF) and extra-curricular writing assignments. I miss my weekly blog though, so I’ll try and catch up here on what I’ve seen in past few months, albeit in significantly fewer words. Another_Earth_06I watched Another Earth (2011) mainly because I appreciated the ambition and wit of the filmmaker’s (director Mike Cahill and writer/star Brit Marling), The Sound of My Voice (2012), which seemed to be one of a number of films that suggested 2012 was a year of films about cults (see also, Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Master). Another Earth was just as unnerving, but like the later effort, seemed to rush it’s ending andwes-andersons-moonrise-kingdom-trailer_h undermine its dramatic focus in favour of a clever twist in this Sci-fi tale. I re-watched Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) and was bowled over by its sincerity, emotion and practically breathtaking beauty. Meanwhile, Stoker by Oldboy (2003) and Thirst (2009) director, Park Chan-wook confirmed what the trailer suggested in its heavily Hitchcock-inspired tone and plot (most obviously Shadow of a Doubt, 1943). Mia Wasikowska in Park Chan-wook's StokerWith captivating performances from the three stars – Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode – as eighteen year-old India Stoker, her mother Evelyn, and her newfound uncle Charlie, Stoker impressed with its tale of death and desire. Everything from the nuanced acting and precise costuming to editor Nicolas De Toth’s expert work, created an intoxicating atmosphere and some truly memorable images, even if its not director Park’s best work. Also with stoker in the title, Alexei Balabanov’s The Stoker (2011) was released this month by new distributor on the block, Edinburgh’s Filmhouse (more on their decision to branch into distribution here).The Stoker

A dark, dark, deadpan tale of murder and revenge in St. Petersburg, The Stoker is brilliantly simple in its premise and execution, and with a damn catchy soundtrack too. With his films only just hitting UK screens – Bradford Film Festival also recently programmed a retrospective of his work – I was sad to hear over the weekend that Balabanov passed away following a seizure. On-The-Road_04Having recently, finally got round to reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I decided to give Walter Salles’ film adaptation a look and came away with much the same feeling as that toward his other, road-based feature, The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) – boredom. Despite the gift of fascinating characters and an engaging plot, I was left unmoved by On the Road as it skipped over some of the most interesting parts of the book and failed to provide any reason to care about Sal and his love for Dean Moriarty.  Lastly, I saw Jeff Nichols’ celebrated new feature, Mud starring Matthew McConaughey as the titular fugitive relying on the loyalty of two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) to reunite him with his lifelong love, Juniper (Reece Witherspoon). In close pursuit of Mud, Carver (the versatile new talent Paul Sparks) is the brother of the man he killed, hoping to ensnare his target and get revenge on behalf of his evangelical family. MUD-pic-3_3-1024x585Ellis meanwhile, allows his romantic nature and confusion about his parents crumbling marriage guide his choice to help Mud, thinking that as long as Mud and Juniper love each other, its worth overlooking the inconsistencies in his story. Mud’s version of a love story – that it’s the only thing you can trust – is one of two presented to Ellis, the other being that by his father, who is frustrated that he both relies upon and resents his wife’s ownership of the riverside family home, and therefore feels betrayed when she expresses a desire to move.

A film primarily about men – male friendship, the male perspective on love, and brotherhood – it was easy to be concerned that women were being unfairly portrayed in the reese-witherspoon-mud4film. Ellis’ father manipulates him into turning against his mother, and has his opinion of Juniper soured when she fails to keep up her end of the arrangement to bring her back to Mud. That women are therefore unreliable and selfish seemed to be the message learnt by Ellis by halfway through the films running time. However, it’s ultimately the male narrative in Nichols screenplay that redeems the negativity towards women. Ellis, in his naivety, has invested in Mud, and in his childlike way, Mud has invested in Juniper – holding onto an ideal from their youth that’s impossible to grasp in adulthood. When Juniper fails to show therefore, its Mud that Ellis lashes out at – he being the man who sold him a tale of love more romantic and attractive than the complexity of his parent’s marriage – thereby disappointing Ellis just the same when the tale ends differently. Similarly, its Ellis’s mother who shows him that their family is worth more than her husbands insecurity, in one brilliant scene demonstrating that its her voice that should be heard. mud-picture04

Following the excellent Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011), Nichols continues to be one of the most impressive and accomplished voices in US independent cinema, taking a seemingly small, coming of age tale and weaving grand themes about identity and loss of innocence into his beautifully realised narrative. Its also important to note the outstanding Sheridan, Lofland and McConaughey, who’s performances provide the solid emotional core of the film. I can’t recommend Mud enough.



Also watched:

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God – Alex Gibney

Ghost World – Terry Zwigoff


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.