Archive for ‘film’


Film review: Behind the Candelabra (2013)

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Film review: Beware of Mr. Baker

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Film review: Sleepwalk With Me (2013)

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Film review: The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

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Film review: To The Wonder (2013)

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Film review: Neighbouring Sounds (2013)

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Film review: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

“I was not born under a rhyming planet”

What do you get to do once you’ve made one of the top three grossing films of all time? Pretty much whatever you want.

It’s always a fascinating period for a filmmaker once they’ve reached phenomenal success, what do they do next?

Studios will pretty much pay for anything, once you’ve made a film like Avengers Assemble, so then it is up to the director to make the most of this new found freedom.

Many end up with spectacular failures or underrated gems that go under the radar for years.

Thank goodness then for Joss Whedon.

Where so many lesser directors would take this opportunity to either a) get lazy and/or frustrated or b) go completely overblown, Whedon much publicised how difficult making Avengers was but it evidently paid off to great success, being a commercial and critical hit.

So, it seems only natural then, that Whedon would want to take a step back from the process; the result? Much Ado About Nothing.

In reality, it is the perfect choice for Whedon to adapt a stage-classic and shoot it in what appears to be the most comfortable surrounds a film has ever been made in (i.e. his own home).

Much Ado is still a few months away from its release, but there is already a hype surrounding it that has been bubbling away ever since it was first announced last year.

This is purely because of the combination of a Shakespeare adaptation and one of Hollywood’s most popular yet sincere directors.

Part of the fun of this adaptation is how easy-going it is; this seems so anti-Hollywood despite being shot entirely in nearby Santa Monica.

Filmed entirely in black and white, at Whedon’s own house, in the space of 11 days, with an entirely little known cast (there are some recognisable faces, Clark Gregg and Fran Kranz for some but nothing page-stopping) who have all appeared in Whedon’s previous projects, TV or film.

At times, this barely even feels like a film because of the relatively, self-imposed, low budget, this actually feels like a high-gloss TV adaptation in parts, something Whedon knows all too much about.

What stops this from becoming distracting is that, aside from being filmed in glorious film noir black-and-white and the picturesque surroundings of Santa Monica, the powerful performances these relative unknowns pack into such a rich and oft-quoted text is stunning.

Though they say they’re in Shakespeare’s Messina this group of actors suit the text so well for a modern adaptation.

One can still imagine these conversations from rich, beautiful, smug Hollywood-ites who all the cast will have experienced personally; these surely are our modern equivalents of the lords and ladies of Shakespeare’s day.

The effect this has is that, while it often makes for comfortable viewing, the film manages to create it’s own layer of self-awareness.

Suddenly it stops feeling like we are really watching fiction; that these people really are in these romantic-comedic situations, because that’s what the apparent timelessness of Shakespeare’s work has.

Because the film was filmed over such a short period of time and is only set over the course of a couple of days, there’s this overwhelming feeling of privacy (the entire production was kept a secret by the self-funding Whedon until it was completed) which feels almost documentarian than fiction.

There’s a real intimacy and energy found between everyone on screen because it is seemingly shared by the actors who play them and their director.

As a result, this makes it an excellent adaptation of a really great play; because it feels like Whedon’s LA home is the stage of something we’re actually witnessing, almost erasing the filter of the camera all together.

But as I hinted at earlier, what really makes this version of Much Ado come alive is its cast.

It seems somewhat strange at first hearing Shakespeare read effectively in a Californian accent; at first it also easy to miss character names given that they’re retained their original Italian monikers, but after everyone is introduced and the play really get’s moving from about 20 minutes in that one becomes swept up in the fast-moving narrative.

It fairly amazing that the jokes, and there are a plentiful amount of them, can still hit despite being told in an archaic verse.

This has a lot to do with the delivery, which coupled with the contemporary Californian backdrop, managed to make the jokes still sound fresh and relevant.

If there is any criticism to be made here, it is perhaps that Whedon relies a little too much on physical, slapstick comedy in terms of some of the visual gags, but they are appropriate in tone and not overbearing; plus Shakespeare could be very broad in his humour when it pleased him.

The stand out here is the incredible Amy Acker as Beatrice.

Acker is a long time collaborator with Whedon but otherwise seems to be a largely undervalued actress but that is more than likely to change here.

It of course helps that the fiery Beatrice is such a well written character; a proto-feminist of sorts who is much smarter and more entertaining than her cousin Hero (a classic Shakespearian trope).

Her delivery of some of Beatrice’s best lines and nuanced reactions to those around her completes this production.

No one here is miscast or unable to deal with the sheer weight of the text (Whedon himself points to the fact that the majority have been performing and training in Shakespeare for years) though it can be a little odd at times hearing Shakespeare read from the Californian drawl.

I personally cannot comment of how good of an adaptation this is from the original; Much Ado is one of the bard’s works that has always completely passed me by, but the only thing that keeps the whole project in check is Shakespeare’s effective and still hilarious writing, and Whedon’s editing and direction.

It’s a far more subtle and often much more enjoyable than say, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, but equally is a fitting adaptation for that moment in time.

But its success is mostly from its simplicity.

The spectre of Shakespeare’s play embraces this film by being as un-film-like as possible.

Beautifully shot and acted, this is going to be one of the summer’s biggest hits.

Words: Adam Turner-Heffer


Film review: Cloud Atlas (2013)

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Film review: John Dies At The End (2013)

The title tells us that John dies at the end – he does die, at some point I’m quite sure, was it at the start, middle or end, I’m not sure.

I don’t even know when the film begins, or if in fact it ever does.

John Dies At The End is a post-modernist, demented devil spawn of a film vomited sporadically upon an unsuspecting screen.

It follows two unlikely drug fuelled “heroes” David Wong and John Cheese as they embark on a time shifting journey to save the destruction of the world, or at least that’s what I think I gathered was happening.

The plot (or lack of) is not really what director Coscarelli concentrates his attention on, instead opting to go for shock and style over any actual substance.

The dialogue sometimes meanders into pseudo-intellectual ramblings and post-Matrix consciousness but never really goes deeper than the two slacker protagonists allow it to.

Instead, I was more impressed with the exciting visuals that are thrown in our face.

Demons, shadow monsters, ghost hands and absurd hallucinations are regular guests in the nonsensical world that we are exposed to, so much so that we completely suspend any sort of real expectations and surrender to the lunacy of the film.

If one allows themselves to completly cast off any conventions and expectations they would normally have while watching a film, then John Dies At The End is occasionally brilliant, frequently hilarious and an utterly absorbing piece of surrealist cinema.

The problem with John Dies At The End is that it seems so preoccupied with becoming a cult hit it eats itself whole.

It’s so self-consciously oddball, that it stunts its ability in becoming something truly memorable and visionary and having not read the book on which the film is based could have deterred my appreciation of the film to some degree.

A lot of the jokes seem to imply a viewer understanding, a little nod or wink to an in joke makes it more explicit than implicit and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to fully understand the characters or dialogue.

I gave up trying to make sense of this within the first half an hour, fortunately for us, Arnie Bloodstone (Paul Giamatti), an investigative journalist is on hand to piece together the story of Dave Woo, as he is brought along for the ridiculous tale along with the viewers, as he is brought along for the ridiculous tale long with the viewers.

We then later find out that Bloodstone has actually been dead for the entire film and that he was in fact a black man who was projected to look like Paul Giamatti after Woo heard him on the phone.

Surprisingly this was one of the more straightforward plot-lines in the film.

The narrative is almost always quirky, feeling negatively constrained by the manner of comedic pomposity in which it is delivered.

I can’t help but feel if it was tempered slightly and allowed for more progression of plot that this could have been a grand eccentric adventure in the vein of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey but instead relied too much on psychedelic effects and ramblings that it offered up no more than a unique, and at times, hilarious cinema experience.

This is a film about determination, drugs, friendship, identity, fate, the end of the world, demons, phantom limbs, weird mask wearing cults, meat monsters, TV show clairvoyants… ahh, who am I kidding, I have no idea what this was about.

Words: Alan Laidlaw


Film review: The Look Of Love (2013)

Michael Winterbottom understands how to get the best from Steve Coogan.

This, his fourth feature film working with Coogan, has him utilising both the well cultured comedic timing of Coogan and his remarkable ability to evoke sympathy from characters that would otherwise be seen as deplorable.

Coogan this time brings his chameleonship to the role of Paul Raymond, a pioneer in the British adult magazine industry.

A hedonist by nature, Raymond seemingly has everything you would expect from leading such a lifestyle; the admiration of young women, expensive cars, an excessive wealth, which has bought him half the properties in Soho and all the drugs that a party hard club owner in the 70s could desire.

Winterbottom seems obsessed with the 70s, having previously made 24 Hour Party People (also starring Coogan) a film set in the tail end of the decade charting the rising profile of the Manchester music scene.

If he was successful in recreating the world of the 1970s in that film, he has honed in on capturing the era perfectly in his newest effort.

The soundtrack is really helps this film along, with numerous instantly recognisable songs of the decade coming in at just the appropriate times to reinforce a feeling that is more intense and immersing than nostalgic.

It’s only when Winterbottom decides to mix real life footage with cinematic scenes that we are reminded, rather bluntly, that this is a recreating of a time long gone and we are, momentarily, brought back into the present, gazing at the period with novel sentimentality.

The film, although very grounded in the idea of transgression and decadence in the British lifestyle of the time, is also deeply concerned with human connections and relationships, in particular the relationship between Raymond and his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots).

Debbie grows up adoring her father and he adoring her.

She is the only person he truly cares for as he wanders through life taking all he can, without ever giving much back.

As a child she is thoroughly impressed by all the things her father owns, and in return for this adoration Raymond gives her everything that she desires, including putting her out to an illustrious boarding school.

As she matures, we see that she is beginning to reflect the more reckless and negative traits of her father and eventually decides to work for him on one of his more risqué shows.

The off-kilter, fragile nature of Debbie is well acted by the young Poots, displaying the misplaced hunger and ambition in the eyes of the character quite expertly at times.

An impressive attribute to the film, and something which Winterbottom excelled at in his last film Everyday, is the subtle ageing of each character.

The progression of Raymond from a young man with everything at his feet, to a tiring, ageing and broken man is quite remarkable as it sneaks up on you.

This also charts a parallelism to Raymond’s ex wife (Anna Friel) who evolves from a confident and powerful young woman to a tired grotesque caricature of a glamour queen

Even though the strongest part of the film is the tragic downfall of the spoiled and adored daughter, it could be an element to why the film also struggles with balancing tone throughout.

Coogan is first and foremost a loveable funny man, and he certainly brings that to his character, allowing much comic relief throughout.

This comedy, however, runs into some problems as the film progresses and the tragic spiralling is heightened.

The comedy and tragedy go against each other, fighting for a piece of our emotions and in the end neither really win out as we are numbed by the counteracting of both.

Some of the scenes are expertly shot by Winterbottom, often feeling quite grand at times.

The refrain of Poots singing ‘The Look of Love’ is something that stays with you quite some time after the credits role.

Her aforementioned fragility is complimented with a childlike enthusiasm and clumsiness that is a perfect juxtaposition to a song that has so many connotations to grace and elegance.

She is certainly the highlight to an otherwise emotionally anaesthetised affair.

The Look of Love is a character study that lacks genuine insight; instead we are shown a conflicted man trapped in a film that has numerous conflictual issues itself.

It’s however redeemed by the fantastic capturing of the era and a stand out performance by the ever-improving Imogen Poots.

Words: Alan Laidlaw