Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Thing (2011)

Image: Universal

John Carpenter’s back catalogue has been pretty heavily raided. We’ve had remakes of The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, and Halloween, while Escape from New York is often mooted for an update. So we were actually slightly encouraged when we heard that this latest would be a prequel rather than a remake. But could it actually offer anything new?

A Norwegian research team in Antarctica find an alien spacecraft below the ice with its inhabitant frozen solid some distance away. American expert Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) arrives to remove it from the ice but the creature is not only far from dead, it’s hostile and can replicate living tissue. Kate quickly realises that some of the team are not who they appear to be.

First of all, it’s important to emphasise that The Thing 2011 is not a total disaster. Director Matthjis van Heijningen Jr. and writer Eric Heisserer are clearly very concerned with matching this prequel to the Carpenter film that we all know and love. Because of this, there are enough nice little touches and nods to quell the knee-jerk rage of most of the hardcore fans. But it needed to deliver on the suspense and it needed to deliver on the effects. Does it?

Well, not really. There are enough impressively gooey effects to make The Thing fun for the gore-hounds, but there’s enough dodgy CGI to put a damper on things. While there are some impressive “What is that?” moments (an early kill and a rather unpleasant close encounter stand out), the film never really gets under your skin like the Carpenter version did, unleashing the splaying tendrils and screaming quickly instead.

There’s a big problem with the lack of tension. With a small group stranded in the middle of nowhere, paranoia and distrust need to be high. But it quickly becomes clear that the bulk of the cast are cannon fodder to be sped through as quickly as possible; with only the faces you recognise being used for “are they infected?” suspense.

The cast themselves are solid enough. Winstead (Scott Pilgrim) shows herself thoroughly capable of leading a film, Ulrich Thomsen (Season of the Witch) seems to channel Stellan Skarsgård in his attempt to generate audience loathing, and Joel Edgerton (Warrior) doesn’t exactly stretch himself as the American helicopter pilot. You might recognise Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost) or Eric Christian Olsen (Community) but there’s not exactly a wealth of character development.

It’s all fairly serviceable enough for the most part and things do threaten to get interesting in the second act with some good effects work and a decent riff on the blood-testing scene from the Carpenter version. It’s just a shame that the damp squib ending destroys a lot of that good will.

Mostly mindless fun. It doesn’t hold a candle to John Carpenter’s The Thing (was it ever going to?) but Winstead is solid, there are some nicely horrible sequences, and it gets the job done.

2.5/5

JH

This Means War (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

Whether he deserves it or not, McG is one of those directors, like the similarly maligned Brett Ratner or Michael Bay, whose name has become short-hand for loud, crass, Hollywood action rubbish. With the Charlie’s Angels franchise and Terminator: Salvation to his name, it’s fair to say that McG has not earned our trust. However, an action-comedy starring Tom Hardy and Chris Pine seemed like it had the potential to be a fun movie.

Super spies FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) fall for the same girl: workaholic singleton Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). They use their spy skills to compete for her affection and to get inside her private life, as she wrestles with whether it’s ok to date two guys at the same time.

This Means War is what you’d be afraid it would be. It’s crass, the characters are unappealing and it’s generally obnoxious. The fact that the film tries to wink at the fact that what the characters are doing is borderline sociopathic (they’re all lying to each other, FDR and Tuck snoop around her private life, they use video cameras to spy on her, they break into her house at one point) doesn’t make it funny, it makes it creepy and voyeuristic. This isn’t a dark comedy, this is a 12A.

The three lead actors all seem to be going for it, giving it 100%, but they’re giving 100% to a truly awful script. Hardy gets the closest to making his character likeable but he’s hobbled by the script. Meanwhile Pine, who was excellent in Star Trek and the little-seen indie horror Carriers, is unable to break his character out of “obnoxious jackass” as the lady-killer FDR, and Witherspoon is never convincingly interesting, funny, or appealing enough to make you believe they’d go so far. American TV star Chelsea Handler also appears as Witherspoon’s best friend who gets to deliver the standard foul-mouthed sexual advice, none of which is remotely funny.

For an action romantic comedy it’s not funny (I didn’t smile until at least half an hour in), it’s definitely not romantic, and the action is by the numbers. The closest the film comes to getting a laugh is the paintball sequence, which might be funny if you haven’t seen Community. That aside, it’s one of the most aggravating films I’ve had to sit through in a while, and a waste of Hardy and Pine.

Avoid it. If you have to watch a Tom Hardy film, watch Warrior. Not enough people did.

1/5

JH

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Black Gold (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

The epic’s a tough genre to get right. There’s a lot of risk involved. Too often filmmakers have come back from their endeavours with an overlong, over-earnest, humourless, stodgy mess that aims for greatness and misses the mark completely. The people behind Black Gold have been trying to get this film made for decades but have they got it right?

In a nameless Middle Eastern desert, feuding lords Emir (Antonio Banderas) and Amar (Mark Strong) make a truce: that no one will use the Yellow Belt, a patch of desert between their two kingdoms, and Emir takes Amar’s two sons to ensure the bargain is kept. But as the two sons reach adulthood, Emir finds oil under the Yellow Belt and starts drilling, which Amar views as an act of aggression. With neither side willing to back down, Amar’s bookish son Auda (Tahar Rahim) must make his own destiny.

Black Gold comes from director Jean-Jacques Annaud, whose best work remains the Sean Connery monk-detective film The Name of the Rose and the Robert De Niro-starring drama The Mission. His recent output, including Two Brothers and Enemy at the Gates, has been patchy, but he’s not a director you can dismiss. And although Black Gold is never quite as sweeping or as thrilling as it should be, there’s a lot to admire.

The story is somehow endearing in its familiarity: the quiet son forced to choose between two father figures before realising that he needs to cast both off to become the man he needs to be. Although the script is often a little simplistic and predictable, Annaud is helped immeasurably by the surprising but effective casting. Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) imbues his character with stoic intensity while Banderas has a lot of fun as his greedier, more venal counterpart.  And if A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim occasionally looks a little lost under the weight of carrying the film (and acting in English), Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) is a joy as Auda’s wise-cracking brother Ali. It’s a shame that Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) isn’t given enough to do as Auda’s true love.

Sadly most of the surprises end with the casting, and at a slightly awkward two hours it has the unfortunate feeling of both being a little long and having under-developed characters. But the full-blooded turns from Strong, Banderas, and Ahmed help to propel the film through its more wooden moments, the desert-bound battle sequences between the old and the new methods of warfare are impressive, and it’s worth mentioning the enjoyably wicked sense of humour in the film’s digs at the West.

If not the great epic it wants to be, Black Gold is an entertaining, sweeping drama that benefits from good casting and an unexpected sense of humour.

3/5

JH  

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

When you see a cast list like this on a poster covered in smiling faces and sunshine, it’s tough not to make a couple of assumptions. First: they probably had a great time making it. Second: it might best be suited for a Sunday afternoon DVD viewing rather than a trip to the cinema. But we put assumptions aside to check it out.

A group of retirees decide to relocate to a retirement hotel in India. Widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) wants a new start. Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are desperate to avoid the depressing English old folk’s home. Madge (Celie Imrie) is looking for a wealthy new husband, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is looking for a last fling. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is looking to reconnect with a childhood love, while racist Muriel (Maggie Smith) is reluctantly going to get a hip operation. But while the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be unfinished, owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is desperate to succeed and prove his worth to his girlfriend, his mother, and himself.

As we said, you’ve got some idea of what you’re getting with a film like this. You’ve got the quality cast, you’ve got the fish-out-water plot with the English thesps exploring the exotic locale, and you’ve got a big heart beneath it all. We can report that, in the best possible sense, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is what you’d expect. The cast is excellent and the script by Ol Parker (based on the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach) is witty and provides a couple of much-appreciated twists on a familiar formula. It’s refreshing to see a film about the issues facing retirees today even if John Madden is occasionally guilty of getting too close to shooting a tourism advert for India.

Dench enjoys a rare lead and, after so many films that have taken advantage of her frostiness, it’s nice to see her show her softer side. Nighy plays the down-trodden but slowly blooming Douglas very nicely, though it would have been better if Wilton’s spiteful Jean was a little more developed. Wilkinson does lovelorn well, and Imrie and Pickup have great fun as the prowling senior singles. Finally there’s Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), who gives an energetic, funny and appealing turn as the desperate but determined Sonny, and Dame Maggie Smith, the not-so-secret weapon, puncturing the general air of luvviness beautifully as the acidic Muriel.

At two hours it stretches the material a little thin but it’s difficult to complain too much when the time is spent in such good company.  It may not be especially challenging or surprising but it’s an tremendously warm, pleasant, and enjoyable film.

In the best possible way, it’s exactly what you’d expect.

3.5/5

JH 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Chronicle (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

The found footage technique has been done to death, killed by low-budget horror movies with a lack of imagination to match. We’ve said this before when Troll Hunter came out and we were proved wrong by that barmy monster chasing fake-doc. Now here comes Chronicle, a low-budget superhero fable that takes the found-footage genre and gives it a shot in the arm.

High-schooler Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a depressed loner whose only company are his video camera and his cool cousin Matt (Alex Russell). When Andrew, Matt, and their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble across a glowing rock in a hole in the ground they start developing telekinesis. As they enjoy flexing and developing their powers, the fragile Andrew becomes torn between the right thing and finally having some control.

What Chronicle uses to revitalise the found-footage genre more than anything is decent storytelling. Writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank clearly know their comic book history, and there’s more than a dash of Akira and Brian K. Vaughan’s The Runaways here. But they take the time to develop the three characters and give them room to convincingly bond as a group of friends before things reach a climax in the third act. The film is mostly told from Andrew’s perspective and the film opens with scenes of his horrible home life with his loving dying mother and drunken abusive father. It only breaks from Andrew’s camera’s perspective occasionally which is more and more important as the film progresses.

It’s always nice to see a superhero movie that shows the characters actually having fun with their powers, and the high-school setting is the perfect setting for that. It’s tremendously entertaining watching these three likeable teens develop their powers, from hurling baseballs at each other’s faces and trying to stop them to actually flying. The high school setting also adds another dimension to Andrew’s character, as his power gives him the confidence to come out of his shell.

Refreshingly, there are no po-faced title cards telling us that the film is based on real events. There’s also some dialogue from the characters that acts as justification from the filmmakers for the use of found-footage. It’s nothing that wasn’t discussed in The Blair Witch Project, but it’s not too clunky and shows that there was a thought process beyond “found footage is hot right now.”

The three leads are all likeable and believable and they make a great group. The most recognisable face is Jordan, who fans of The Wire will recognise as Wallace from the first series. DeHaan (In Treatment) gets the lion’s share of the drama, but is ably backed up by Russell who gets more to do as the film develops. Michael Kelly (The Adjustment Bureau) is also convincingly awful as Andrew’s horrible father.

We were sceptical when we saw the trailer but Chronicle overcame our prejudices and we can, with some surprise, recommend this entertaining action thriller.

A very good comic book movie that’s not based on a comic book, Chronicle uses the exhausted found-footage genre to great effect.

4/5

JH

Friday, 10 February 2012

A Dangerous Method (2012)

Image: Lionsgate

David Cronenberg’s career path over recent years has taken him away from the body horror with which he made his name to dramas that bring the psychological aspect to the forefront. This trajectory has now, quite logically, led him to this: a film about the fathers of psychoanalysis and the woman who was the catalyst for their separation.

Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) takes on the case of Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a hysterical woman he treats with “The Talking Cure”, created by Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). But the relationship between Carl and Sabina grows complicated as the upright monogamist gives in to his baser urges.

Cronenberg is not a director unfamiliar with ideas of sexuality or the idea of how society frowns on what it sees as aberrance. From his early work with Shivers and Rabid to perhaps his most notorious film Crash, the director is clearly fascinated with the issue. So a film about Jung’s torrid affair with a patient with masochistic sexual tendencies seems like the perfect film for him. 

Everything in this film is bathed in sunlight and warm domesticity. Psychoanalysis and perversion are discussed on pleasant strolls or over dinner. It’s a contrast that serves the film well, and is nicely acknowledged at a family meal at Freud’s home. Jung lives by a beautiful Swiss lake and is often to be found taking a walk through the woods or taking his boat out on the lake. Freud, meanwhile, is a man of creature comforts: smoking, drinking and eating. It’s when the film shows the deteriorating father-son relationship between the two men that it’s at its best. For all the much publicised spanking, the relationship between Jung and Sabina is never as involving as it needs to be.

Mortensen gets to show another side as the increasingly prickly mentor, while Fassbender gives another excellent performance as the clipped Presbyterian who finds that it’s difficult to close a door once it’s been opened. There’s also a fine turn from Vincent Cassel as the Otto Gross, the sex addict psychiatrist who appears to whisper exactly the right, or wrong, words in Jung’s ear at the right moment. Then there’s Knightley. The actress goes for broke with a physical performance that frankly doesn’t quite work.

For a Cronenberg film it’s surprisingly bright, leisurely, and not particularly challenging. There’s a fascinating study of the relationship between Freud and Jung here with some wonderfully observed mentor-protégé friction, but it’s a shame that the depiction of the affair that ruptured it never quite comes off.

An intriguing psychological study with superb performances from Mortensen and Fassbender. It’s lesser Cronenberg but certainly worth a look.

3.5/5

JH

The Woman in Black (2012)

Image: Momentum Pictures

Susan Hill’s novel has been enduringly popular since its publication in 1983, spawning an acclaimed television film by Nigel Kneale and a long-running West End play. It seems apt that the recently revived Hammer Films should be the ones to bring us the film adaptation, written by the on-a-roll Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and starring Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Potter lead.

Victorian England. Widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) leaves his young son to tend to the estate of Alice Drablow in a remote village. But why do the villagers keep their children away from him? And why will no one go to the Drablow house? What are they afraid of?

First: a disclaimer. At the time of watching this film I had not read the novel or seen the TV adaptation so any changes to the story that others will pick up on went unnoticed by me.

There’s an interesting mix of people at work here. Hammer’s rich history and Goldman’s track record of good adaptations aside, it’s directed by James Watkins, who gave us the nasty little horror Eden Lake, in which a group of kids did very bad things to Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly. But our main concern was the film’s star. Radcliffe has never really impressed us in the Harry Potter films and we were worried about whether he could carry a film set beyond the walls of Hogwarts. We can report that, while his acting has improved, he’s not as good as he needs to be. His face conveys the bereaved, haunted man perfectly but his delivery of the dialogue is painfully flat, especially as things get more intense.

But Radcliffe aside, there’s much to enjoy here. After an eye-catching opening sequence, Watkins and Goldman take their time to build mood and atmosphere. The Woman in Black does occasionally flirt with being a little slick and a little too stylish. For a Victorian horror film it’s surprisingly well-lit, which means it doesn’t always have the gloomy, oppressive mood that you would usually associate with the genre. However, once things get going and Kipps decides that it’s definitely a good idea to stay the night at the Drablow house it becomes clear that the filmmakers have a firm grip on the wheel.

It’s difficult to talk about the second half of the film without spoiling anything so we’ll just say that things get very creepy very fast. Fans of the genre will appreciate the use of old favourites such as antique children’s toys and rocking chairs, while newcomers should be on the receiving end of a lot of good shocks. Goldman has spoken about the influence of J-horror on the mood and tone of the film and the general sense of melancholy works very nicely. There’s also sterling support from Ciarán Hinds (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and Janet McTeer (Tideland) as a wealthy couple who lend their sensible support and unhinged insight to Kipps respectively.

It’s a little glossy and it could have used a different actor in the lead but The Woman in Black is a well-crafted ghost story that builds a nicely sustained atmosphere of unease and fear. If it’s not full-tilt terrifying enough for the hardcore horror fans, it’s certainly pretty intense for the 12A certificate.

Horror fans should enjoy this well-crafted ghost story. Non-horror fans will want to hold onto their popcorn.

3/5

JH

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

J. Edgar (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

The prospect of a filmmaker like Clint Eastwood taking on a subject as fascinating as J. Edgar Hoover with a leading man like Leonardo DiCaprio got us pretty excited. Hoover’s long been due an in-depth biopic and there’s no denying the pedigree of that partnership.

It’s near the end of Kennedy’s time in office and J. Edgar Hoover is concerned with his public image and so begins work on an autobiography/history of the FBI. He looks back over his early days working to stamp out communism, his war on organised crime, his total domination of law enforcement, and his relationships with his domineering mother (Judi Dench) and his “right hand man” Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

It’s not really a surprise that Eastwood’s film is a fairly serious proposition, clocking in at 2 hours 20 minutes. What is a disappointment is that the film itself a bit biopic-by-numbers. Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) take a completely conventional approach, with the lonely, paranoid Hoover looking back over his youth, the cast gamely performing through increasingly suffocating latex (Hammer especially looks in danger of drowning) and vocal impressions.

While J. Edgar is never exactly boring, it’s rarely particularly thrilling. The make-up and the impersonations are a distraction that never really goes away (Jeffrey Donovan’s Bobby Kennedy being arguably the worst offender). Much of the war on crime was covered with somewhat more energy in Michael Mann’s underrated Public Enemies (which had a solid turn from Billy Crudup as Hoover). However, this film is about Hoover rather than Dillinger, and DiCaprio is on fine form with a performance that’s fiery enough to get through the trappings of impersonation to find the awkward, excitable, temperamental man underneath. Rather than show Hoover as a sweating, power-grabbing villain, Eastwood and DiCaprio show him as a crusader who truly believes he is working for the greater good. Presidents need to be convinced to leave him alone to do his job, and what better way to keep them away than to let them know what you have on them? But the line between self-belief and delusion is a fine one.

While the law enforcement scenes may be something of a disappointment the scenes which find Hoover at his most open and personal work very well. His mother (Judi Dench) is strong and proud provided he stays on course. His assistant Miss Gandy (Naomi Watts) is unflinchingly loyal but does not hesitate to reject his proposal of marriage. His relationship with Tolson becomes increasingly tragic as they reach a sort of agreed state of co-dependence, the two men in love, only one of whom can admit to it. While it’s DiCaprio’s show, we should mention Watts’ impressively understated performance. Hammer has excellent chemistry with DiCaprio, it’s just a shame that he disappears under prosthetics towards the end.

While it may be a little plodding and a little predictably handled, DiCaprio’s performance is excellent. What it lacks in energy, it makes up for with a surprisingly affecting love story.

Not quite the excellent drama we were hoping for, but J. Edgar finds the humanity beneath the caricature.

3/5

JH

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

At the Movies

The Artist

Coriolanus (2012)

Image: Lionsgate

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s play has long been a passion project for Ralph Fiennes. Taking the director’s chair for the first time, he’s worked with writer John Logan (Gladiator) to bring a contemporary version of one of The Bard’s lesser known works to the screen.

Roman general Caius Martius (Fiennes) is respected, feared, and reviled in equal measure. After vanquishing his mortal enemy Tullus Aufidius’s (Gerard Butler) troops, he is named Coriolanus and declared Consul of Rome. But when the people turn against him and banish him from the land, the enemy of his enemy becomes his friend.

This is a big film for Fiennes in every sense of the word. He’s directing and taking the lead role in an update filmed on location in Bosnia that requires him to run through warzones firing rifles, have knife fights, and be so violently angry it takes four men to hold him back. At one point he even grows a beard and hoofs it on the road. Big is the word here. Hand-held cameras are used to get as close to the actors’ faces as humanly possible. Presumably this is an exaggerated way to reduce the assumed distance that a stage play would incur. But when this is matched with performances so...well, theatrical that they threaten to break through the screen, the film becomes insufferable and the modern Balkan setting works only intermittently.

Fiennes’s Coriolanus is a splenetic ball of barely contained rage and revulsion. Brought up by his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to believe in death before dishonour, he’s at home on the battlefield but doesn’t know what to do when he gets back to his family. These scenes are some of the film’s best, as he barely acknowledges his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and his young son, retreating to the bathroom with his mother to bandage his wounds. This is partly due to the stunning performance from Redgrave, but it’s also due to the fact that the rest of the film is so deafeningly loud and over the top that when things go quiet we pay attention. This happens rarely.

Butler goes for ever-so-slightly gruffer and quieter than Fiennes as Aufidius, while Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, and Paul Jesson connive and spin as the manipulative politicians. While they might not all be shouting all the time none of the cast can be accused of underplaying their roles; they not only chew the scenery, they eat its bleeding heart. The exception is Chastain, though that might be because she doesn’t have much of a character anyway.

While Coriolanus is mostly a disappointment, the scenes between Coriolanus and Volumnia deserve praise. She’s thrilled by his victories on the battlefield, wanting him home wounded enough to show the scale of his endeavours but not so wounded as to be unable to accept his honours.  Fiennes is at his best in these scenes, cowed by the sheer will of his mother, but it’s Redgrave who walks away with the film.

The cinematography and the performances (particularly Fiennes’s) are kept at such a state of juddering intensity that Coriolanus grows repetitive. Ultimately it’s overblown and misjudged.

2.5/5

JH

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Descendants (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

It’s been seven years since Alexander Payne’s last feature, the acclaimed and award-winning dramatic comedy Sideways. He’s returned to middle age crises for his new film, with George Clooney leading the cast, and it’s proven to be an awards magnet.

Hawaii lawyer Matt King (Clooney) is reeling. His wife is in a coma after a powerboat racing accident, leaving him to take responsibility for his daughters, 17-year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10 year old Scottie (Amara Miller). He’s also planning the sale of a large piece of land that his family have looked after for generations. When he discovers that his wife is dying and that she was cheating on him, he decides that it’s time to start taking care of things.

Payne’s a filmmaker known for not flinching from unpleasant truths. The man behind Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways has a history of making comedy dramas with sharp teeth. So it’s a bit of a disappointment to find The Descendants is somewhat toothless. It’s certainly entertaining and sometimes quite moving, but it’s content to keep the darkness at the edges instead of really engaging it. The film is at its strongest when Matt confronts his problems head on, and given that the film starts with Matt’s narration telling us that people in Hawaii are just as screwed up as everyone else, it seems strange that The Descendants is so laid-back for most of its running time.

Clooney’s been given awards recognition already for his performance as the passive Matt. It’s an effective, subdued portrayal of a man struggling to connect with his children for pretty much the first time and generally start taking an active role. Matt is in a constant see-saw between what’s acceptable and what’s not, and trying to figure out where he needs to set boundaries. His relationship with his daughter Alexandra is one of the film’s high-points, as she is still identifiably a teenager but she is also able to take on the responsibility that Matt is incapable of. The character’s growing up is not in any way exaggerated or unbelievable. Woodley is excellent and as deserving of attention as Clooney, and she works wonderfully with Miller.

But Payne never really scrapes deep enough beneath the surface. While it’s refreshing to see a drama in which the lead doesn’t have to break down and fracture completely, things progress a little too neatly and simply here. There are too many overly familiar elements of family drama, from the unnecessary narration to stock characters like the stoner boyfriend (Nick Krause) and the angry father-in-law (Robert Forster).  But the film improves in its final third, with impressively written and performed, honest scenes featuring Matthew Lillard (Scream) and the always-excellent Judy Greer (Arrested Development).

The mellow tone matches the Hawaiian setting and it’s certainly an enjoyable, often surprisingly funny watch. However, we would have liked Payne to go a bit deeper.

An entertaining drama that’s a little shallow but enjoyable nevertheless. Shailene Woodley’s definitely one to watch.

3.5/5

JH

Thursday, 2 February 2012

In Perceptions

Forget about monsters in Paris, this week it's all about a Wandercat and a very tall Bâtiment. Courtesy of Leandro Erlichour resident MP (top left) found himself in a spot of bother on the top floor of a Parisian apartment today. You could even say his life was hanging in the balance....  


Fortunately, Erlich is a talented artist and "Bâtiment" is one of two of his installations currently on show at Le CentQuatre in Paris.

The second is "Changing Rooms"


The exhibition, "In Perceptions", also features the work of Belgian artist Ann Veronica Janssens. Check out the fun we had in the fog below. We're calling this first piece "Martin in the Mist". Sadly, it's not for sale.


FG

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

Writer/director Sean Durkin’s debut feature has built up incredible word of mouth since it played at Sundance last year and now it’s finally received a UK release.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) in tears from a payphone. The sisters haven’t seen each other in years, and Lucy takes Martha to her beautiful holiday home in the woods with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). But as Martha’s behaviour grows increasingly inappropriate and erratic, they realise that she’s not telling them the whole story, and Martha remembers her time spent in a commune with the charismatic but dangerous Patrick (John Hawkes).

A film like this depends heavily on its lead and Olsen is superb as Martha, giving a nuanced, emotional performance. The flashback structure allows us to see how Martha has arrived at her current unstable state. When she arrives at the commune, she is relaxed and friendly. But as the darker sides of Patrick and the community are revealed her behaviour around Lucy and Ted becomes unpredictable. From swimming in front of them with no clothes on and being occasionally rude, she begins to lose all sense of boundaries and suffers full-blown panic attacks. She slips in and out of dreams and it gets harder to tell what’s happening when. It’s a fantastic performance that showcases Olsen’s considerable talent.

The conversations between Martha and the brittle but concerned Lucy hint at a difficult childhood but it’s important to note that Martha isn’t the perfect all-American teen before she arrives at the commune. She’s a girl looking for support, guidance, a little rebellion, and purpose, and that’s what Patrick seems to offer. Everyone has a job to do; everybody shares their possessions and responsibilities. And while it’s quickly apparent to us that all is not right, it’s important that Martha is fragile enough to be convinced to stay as long as she does. Durkin has a remarkably steady hand and things progress with a horrifying plausibility.

Olsen aside, Paulson (The Spirit, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Dancy (The Big C) are excellent as the couple trying to be supportive but reasonable, and Brady Corbet (Funny Games) is effectively threatening as Patrick’s right hand. There’s also a magnetic turn from Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) as Patrick, whose softly-spoken, encouraging, loving facade masks a dangerous predator.

There are plot holes to be found and there are moments which will prove divisive but this is a carefully-drawn character study with excellent, award-worthy performances from Olsen and Hawkes, and shows that Durkin is a filmmaker to watch.

A superbly unsettling drama and a highly assured debut from Durkin.

4.5/5

JH