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.
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 (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… 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?” before 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.