Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review - Dark Water (2005 - Dir. Walter Salles)

Here's Jennifer Connelly's shot at gaining a place in the illustrious final of the FA Cup of Actors. I'm quite glad that this came up as it's something that I'd fancied seeing for a while. I saw the original version some time ago and thought that it was suitably creepy and generally okay. Let's see what I make of this American remake of Dark Water (or to give it its title in Yorkshire: Dark Watter).

Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) is splitting up from her husband (Dougray Scott) and taking her little girl Ceci (Ariel Gade of Some Guy Who Kills People fame) with her to a new apartment. It's a shame that a dodgy estate agent (John C. Reilly) convinces her to rent an apartment in an entirely dubious location and it is run down in the extreme. It would be an understatement to say that damp is a problem. As things get worse for Dahlia, both in the flat and in her personal relationships, lawyer Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth) is on hand to advise.

This is one long slow burn of a film; think House of the Devil long burn. I quite like it for that alone. Not having any kind of attention disorder, I can cope with things gradually unfolding. Eventually slow burners need to reach a point where something great or shocking happens but like the aforementioned film, Dark Water doesn't get to that point.

The most potentially interesting relationship in the film is between Dahlia and her lawyer. Platzer's office is his car and he goes to the cinema on his own to see films like a real saddo. (You wouldn't catch me doing things like that. Not this week anyway. There's nothing on.) Yet he is a real professional and does a great job of sorting Dahlia's problems out. This was the most engaging thing for me but their relationship never gets resolved; Platzer just seems to drop out of the film in the final stages.

Jennifer Connelly does a good job of being a paranoid migraine sufferer. She doesn't quite go as deep as her role in Requiem for a Dream but you feel for her as her world falls apart. Her relationship with her daughter Ceci is also convincing. It doesn't harm things that she looks as though she could be Ariel Gade's real-life mother. 

The less said about Pete Postlethwaite's accent the better.

The question for a large portion of the film is whether the spooky goings on are supernatural or psychological. At one point in my life I'd have been desperate for the ghosts to charge out and slime everyone, but now I quite like the idea of it being more ambiguous, with clues littered throughout the film. I won't tell you which route Dark Water goes down.

I half enjoyed this film but be warned, it is very grim. To get a feel for Dark Water go and live in Hull for a month and experience the never-ending rain, the smell of drains and the overwhelming greyness. (I lived in Hull for a few years and loved it despite it's grimness. It's got a shopping centre that is vaguely reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon. What more could you want?) If the ending had been better, it probably would have bumped this up to a six or even seven. But as it stands Connelly just doesn't quite have the attacking power that Page possesses. So Ellen Page is through to the final.

If you like this you could also try:
Dark Water (2002), The Ring.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Review - Peacock (2010 - Dir. Michael Lander)

Here we are at the semi-finals of the FA Cup of Actors then and our first match is between Ellen Page and Jennifer Connelly. Now, when Peacock came up for Ellen Page I thought that she'd blown it. I didn't fancy this in the slightest. I'm not that keen on Susan Sarandon and I haven't liked anything that Cillian Murphy has done, (either of the first two Batman films or "it's not a zombie film" 28 Days Later) he's way too slinky for my liking. Things aren't looking good for Pagey (a bit like when half of your players have the flu and the opposition forces you to change ends after the toss).

But crikey, (and maybe even blimy) it's actually not too bad. In fact, it's pretty good. And shock of shocks, Cillian Murphy's performance is great. Let's find out more...

For once I'm going to quote directly from IMDb to give you a little portion of background info: "A train accident in rural Nebraska gradually unveils a mystery involving the town's bank clerk." The reason why I've thieved this is because it gives away nothing, which is dandy. It's good to see that the person writing this knew that to say any more would be to spoil everything about the film.

The director describes this as psychological horror, which I would agree with. It's part drama, part mystery, part thriller and part horror. Fitting it into an existing genre is very difficult, which is generally a good thing; it shows the film-makers have tried something different. Another positive is that the ending is ambiguous leading to plenty of post-film chat.

Cillian Murphy is the major revelation of Peacock. This is a mightily impressive performance, without which the film wouldn't work, and at worst would become laughable. One scene in particular, where there is a certain amount of deception going on, borders on stunning. Changing my mind about someone is pretty hard going so well done Mr Murphy.

Ellen Page, meanwhile, is badly miscast. Her acting is up to her usual standard but I just can't see her as living in a trailer park, and selling her body for cans of Special Brew. Added to that, she doesn't look like a natural born smoker. I can see why they jumped at the chance of having Pagey in their film but for me it was a mistake. If she gets through this semi-final, she's pulled it off by bringing in the ringer Cillian Murphy who should have been in the running for an Oscar.

I've found it really hard to give this a rating. It's worth seeing for Murphy's performance alone (which I would give a 9/10). Overall though, I'm glad that I've seen Peacock but it's not a film that I would watch again, basically down to personal taste. If you like Psycho and Lars and the Real Girl then you will probably enjoy this. 

If you like this you could also try:
Psycho, Lars and the Real Girl.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Review - Tsotsi (2005 - Dir. Gavin Hood)

When South African street hoodlum Tsotsi pinches a car from a well-to-do suburban couple the last thing he expects to find on the back seat is a baby. From this point on our hero’s life changes on a variety of levels as caring for the infant conjures up feelings of empathy, memories of his past and his hopes and aspirations. Yes it’s a little like a gritty version of 'A Christmas Carol', but how could that ever be a bad thing?

The film has its wince inducing moments, firstly as Tsotsi and his gang rampage around Johannesburg and latterly as he clumsily attempts to care for the baby. Any new parents could do a lot better than ignoring Tsotsi’s guide to looking after infants, especially nappy changing, feeding, transporting in a carrier bag and insect infestation. Ultimately, however the film leaves you with a lovely warm feeling as if you are soaking in a lovely warm bath of hopefulness for humanity, but without the candles and Lush bath bomb filth.

The lead, Presley Chweneyagae, deserves credit for producing this feel good factor as he struts around the township eliciting feelings of both fear and sympathy. Like the rest of his gang, he’s believable, detailed and likeable. Also worthy of special mention is the lovely Terry Pheto, who portrays a single mum who befriends Tsotsi. She oozes positivity, love and wholesomeness as if she’s some kind of supernatural South African earth mother on a mission to save the lost boys of the township.

It’s a great film without ever reaching the heights and complexities of City of God. South Africa has so much potential for gritty offerings and I’ll definitely be looking up other options from the country over the next year. Some lovely imagery, a great soundtrack and a meaningful story means that this is certainly worth a couple of hours of your time.


If you like this you could also try:
City of God, Gomorrah

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Review - Broken Arrow (1950 - Dir. Delmer Daves)

I'm not that keen on Westerns. Spaghetti Westerns, yes, but not your usual run of the mill Western. (Perhaps that's why this is my first review of one.) So when Broken Arrow came up as James Stewart's randomly selected entry for the FA Cup of Actors, I was skeptical and thought that maybe Jamel Debbouze was in with a chance of nicking this match.

James Stewart plays Tom Jeffords in his standard Mr Smith Goes to Washington style (and there's nothing wrong with that). In a twist on the average Cowboys and Indians film where the Indians are subjected to genocide by our heroes, Jeffords befriends his Native American chums on the basis that he's sick of all the scrapping, so he wants everyone to kiss and make up and generally get along with each other. Funnily enough, Cochise (Jeff Chandler), the leader of the Apaches, is suspicious of this outsider and his American buddies want to give him a good kicking for knocking about with untrustworthy savages. It doesn't help that he falls in love with Sonseeahray (Debra Paget).

Let's start off by getting rid of the obvious problem of the filmmakers using white actors made up to look like Native Americans. It was made in the unenlightened 1950s so we can forgive them this error. But let's face facts, we're better than that now: it would be completely offensive to peddle that kind of thing in current times, especially if you were a massive family film studio, like Disney perhaps.

The plot made for a welcome change and I found myself enjoying it despite my misgivings. The scenery is stunning on occasions and for once The Native Americans aren't portrayed as scalp pilfering psychos but as a mostly noble, honourable group of people. There are a few wrong 'uns but that's fair enough. The settlers meanwhile are generally big racists. 

James Stewart is a consistently bankable fellow and his performance here is no exception. Obviously I haven't seen all of his films but I'm betting that they're all eminently watchable. Here though, he is matched by Chandler, perfectly cast (apart from the skin colour issue) as a strong leader who is willing to negotiate a peace treaty. Paget meanwhile looks a tad young to be Stewart's love interest. In fact, she was born in 1933, so she's only seventeen at most. All a bit dodgy.

In the final analysis this just pips Jamel's entry sending our plucky underdog out of the competition and despite Broken Arrow never setting the world on fire it is still an above average film deserving an above average...

If you like this you could also try:
Vertigo, Rear Window.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Review - The Violent Kind (2010 - Dir. The Butcher Brothers)

For the first half hour of the film you’re never quite sure what genre the film is heading for. It’s an unusual and pleasant feeling as we criss-cross from biker gang violence into spooky supernatural happenings and back again. In fact the first half of the film is a thoroughly enjoyable romp at the junction of gritty motorcycle gang street and spirit possession avenue. In fact I had little idea that this was anything less than a big budget production with some quality acting, with Cory Knauf and the tasty Taylor Cole the most noticeable.

Possibly the most notable feature of the film is the amount of punching in the face that takes place. It’s a veritable festival of bare knuckle fist fighting throughout in a semi-slapstick fashion that reminded me of a combination of Rocky, Bottom and The Sweeney. A heady cocktail if ever there was one. If you like seeing people, and sometimes demons, get punched in the face, then you’re in for a treat.

Sadly however, this is a game of two halves and just as the film reaches fever pitch everything goes pear shaped. After the half time jaffa-cakes it all looks cheap and amateurish, and not in a good way either. The actors drafted in are not a patch on the originals and you really want to put your head in your hands, with Pussywagon and Trixie straight out of pantoland. The plot changes from a decent horror story into a jazz hands infused, Clockwork Orange meets Grease parody of Rebel Without a Cause on steroids. In a capitulation not seen since Halifax Town visited Belle Vue in the early 90’s, the film snatches defeat from the jaws of victory in a big way.
(That was a bad, bad day - evlkeith)

The spooky and atmospheric ending is too little too late as I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, and a feeling that I’d been cheated out of watching the actual second half of The Violent Kind. If you want to make a rubbish film then make a rubbish film, but don’t make half a good film then dash our hopes by drafting in the acting equivalent of Chico and the Cheeky Girls from the X-Factor halfway through. We were robbed!

7/10 for the first half, 0/10 for the second half.
0/10 overall for cheating us.

If you like this you could also try:
Doing something really great - like eating toast spread thickly with gorgeous Marmite - and then do something fairly horrible, drinking liquidized cat vomit, for instance.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Review - Let's Talk About The Rain (2008 - Dir. Agnès Jaoui)

We return to rank outsider Jamel Debbouze who managed to impress with his first round effort, Outside the Law, in this year's FA Cup of Actors. He is up against some stiff opposition in this match though (James Stewart) so he better be on top form if he wants to be a giant killer. Here he is then in Let's Talk About The Rain.

Agathe Villanova (played by the director) is a politician being interviewed for a documentary by Michel (co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri) and Karim (Debbouze). Agathe's sister and her husband, plus Karim's mum, get thrown into the mix and the relationships get increasingly complicated due to numerous affairs. None of the characters are particularly happy throughout the majority of the film but will they attain a greater level of contentedness by the finale?

The first half an hour or so is not that engaging and, as you've probably guessed, it takes a while to work out who's who and what their initial relationships are to each other. But once everyone has been identified things start to improve and it develops into a pleasant little tragicomedy that manages to raise a few smiles.

One of the most amusing characters is the sister's husband. His son is choking so Michel deals with it with a good hearty slap to the back. Problem solved. But no. Laddo complains that he did it wrong. He should have used the Heimlich manoeuvre. Brilliant idea mate. Give him serious internal injuries rather than try a less harsh method first. Top parenting. He also moans at his wife for that most heinous of crimes: reading in bed. They really should bring back the birch. Okay, so maybe he's more irritating than amusing, but I laughed at him regardless.

A slightly more traditional comic figure is Michel, who makes documentaries for a living. He is truly a premium quality professional; he doesn't press record before the interview starts and misses getting some cracking footage and has a tendency to be generally incompetent. But at least he's got the cheeky fellow Debbouze to help him out.

He's his usual likeable self and shows that he has a wider range than just war films. Subtlety is the key here as he contemplates having an affair with his co-worker. He is completely believable and is in good company with an equally impressive cast. I wasn't looking forward to his films at the start of this competition but he's managed to get past my gruff miserable shield and be adopted as one of obscurendure's favourite actors.

The film deals with the lofty themes of depression and the role of women but it still manages to throw in a sheep gag. And no, not a dirty one. Dear me. The comedy here comes from the noise they make and their ability to follow people down country lanes. I did say that it was a pleasant little film.

It all adds up to a well-made subtle film that is quietly entertaining. But for me, the spark that takes it into the above average category just wasn't there. For you, it may well be. I enjoyed it but it's not a film that I'd watch again. James Stewart will be raring to go and donning his shin guards when he sees the rating this one's been given (if he was still alive, admittedly) and I'm doubtful that Jamel can pull off anything better than a draw in this match. It's a shame. But you never know...

If you like this you could also try:
Look At Me, Two Days, One Night.