Film Review: Darling

17/09/2010

Not as well known as it should be, John Schlesinger’s Darling is very much a product of the mid-1960s, yet its themes are entirely contemporary as to have resonance with audiences today.

Diana Scott is a beautiful young woman living in London. In order to fulfill her modeling and acting aspirations, Diana decides to do whatever is necessary, and finds herself increasingly socialising in circles which can offer her the fame and fortune she desires…

Whilst the idea of a young woman sleeping with people in order to get ahead in her career may have been salacious in the 1960s, it is not such a shocking proposal these days. What makes Darling resonate with more modern audiences is Diana’s quest for fame, and her manipulation of the media. It is something we see emanating from celebrity magazines, websites and television shows everyday. In one sense, it is heartening to know that this was also occurring fifty years ago.

Julie Christie certainly deserved her Oscar award for her portrayal of the title character. As Diana she is enchantingly beautiful, yet there is a ruthlessness to her character that quickly dissuades any warmth one may feel towards her. Christie is utterly believable in this role; the necessary coldness she displays sets the tone for the entire film. Diana narrates the film, as if she is giving an interview. This device works incredibly well, depicting the disparity of actuality of events and the spin she wishes to put on them.

Dirk Bogarde offers a convincing portrayal of Robert Gold, the one man Diana actually loves. Although he has his flaws, he is one of the more redeeming characters in Darling. Laurence Harvey is excellent as the well-connected Miles. His character is quite believable, and brings a healthy dose of humour to proceedings.

The Oscar-winning costume design, as well as the cinematography offers such a beautiful aesthetic, which contrasts perfectly with the ugliness of the narrative. As social commentary, Darling works as well today as it did in the 1960s. The film perfectly exhibits the hollowness of Diana’s lifestyle. The audience will be left perhaps in awe of the protagonist’s beauty, but certainly not of her life.

Overall, Darling is a gem of 1960s British cinema; a film well worth discovering.

Darling was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Screen Epiphanies season and in conjunction with Elle Magazine. It was introduced by Roland Mouret.

Advertisements

Film Review: Made in Dagenham

14/09/2010

Given director Nigel Cole’s previous work in Calendar Girls, it is unsurprising that Made in Dagenham is a film that concentrates more on the emotional side rather than the factual evidence of the 1968 strike by female workers at the Ford Dagenham car plant. As this film is a dramatisation featuring mostly fictional characters, that doesn’t matter too much; Made in Dagenham is an enjoyable movie which should do well, in the UK market at least.

Rita O’Grady becomes the reluctant leader of a campaign for equal pay for women in late-1960s Britain. As well as dealing with personal issues brought on by the strike, Rita and her band of campaigners have to contend with chauvinistic bosses, unhelpful union leaders, and numerous others in their quest to end pay discrimination…

Made in Dagenham is in many ways typical of mainstream British cinema. It is a feel-good film combining drama and comedy. The film features many well-known faces from the British screen. And the focus is on a very particular group on individuals; in this case a group of working class women living in Dagenham.

Although it ticks these boxes, that is not to say that Made in Dagenham is a tired film. Some of the characters are well-developed, and will be responded to accordingly by audiences. Others are featured more for comic value, but again this seems to work in Nigel Cole’s film. Whilst the film holds no great surprises, it is engaging enough to entertain viewers throughout.

Some may complain that Made in Dagenham follows a well-tread path in British film, eschewing realism for sentimentality. The film, however, functions on the level it intends to; a feel-good film that will appeal to audiences well-versed in the style of its predecessors. On this level, Made in Dagenham is effective. Whilst it may not be ground-breaking, it is enjoyable.

Sally Hawkins gives an excellent performance as Rita, the reluctant working wife and mother who, at heart, understands how important it is to stand up against injustice. Bob Hoskins is watchable as ever, in a role that does not stretch his capabilities in the least. Geraldine James and Miranda Richardson both add a necessary weight to proceedings, whilst Andrea Riseborough is immense fun as the outspoken Brenda.

Technical credits are good all-round. The 1960s soundtrack works well to transport viewers back to the late-1960s setting. Likewise, the costume department have excelled in this respect.

Some of the humour and references may be lost on non-British audiences, but for the most part Made in Dagenham has universal appeal, if taken on face value as the feel-good film it is.


Film Review: Cyrus

13/09/2010

Cyrus effectively mixes drama with comedic episodes, producing a thoroughly watchable movie. The style of the film distinguishes itself from many others in the comedy-drama category, resulting in an offbeat picture that is unlikely to set the box office ablaze, but should be enjoyed by all that take a punt on Cyrus.

Divorced John is stuck in a rut until he meets an amazing woman at a party. Things are going well for the pair, until John stats to spend time with her grown-up son Cyrus…

Whilst the trailer suggests Cyrus is a comedy foremost, in reality the film is a drama with comedic interludes. Hopefully this will not deter viewers, as Cyrus is an earnest and believable movie. It is also a film that should resonate with a wide range of cinemagoers, and not just those who may have had similar experiences as the protagonist. Cyrus is really about the complexities of relationships and fitting into a structure; themes that should be universally identifiable.

A major part of what makes the film works so well is the performances by the cast. In a rare leading man role, John C. Reilly gives a great performance as the down-on-his-luck guy looking to make the most of this rare chance of romance. It is refreshing to see a leading man in a romance who is not conventionally good-looking; John’s lack of self-confidence is all the genuine because of this.

Jonah Hill is excellent as dependent son Cyrus. It is a reticent performance; Hill’s deadpan expressions and monotone responses generate a lot of the laughs in Cyrus. Marisa Tomei appears authentic as Molly, mother of Cyrus and object of John’s affection. Catherine Keener also puts in a good performance as John’s ex-wife.

Writer and director team Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass produce a real indie-feel to Cyrus. There is a lot of hand-held camera action, and the sound is at odds with most Hollywood films. The film combines natural sound with a score by Michael Andrews. Some of the scenes between John and Molly feature the dialogue over edited shots of the pair; giving these sequences a dream-like effect. Whilst the camera work is at times distracting, on the whole the less-polished approach seems appropriate given the nature of the film.

If you are expecting a out-and-out comedy, Cyrus will come as a disappointment. But as a drama with hints of humour, Cyrus works well.


Film Review: Dinner for Schmucks

11/09/2010

What do you get when you cross Jay Roach, the director of Meet the Parents, with actors Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis? Dinner for Schmucks, a comedy that is only sporadically funny, and ultimately disappoints.

In order to achieve a big promotion at work, Tim needs to find an idiot to bring to his boss’ dinner party. After bumping into an unusual guy called Barry, Tim thinks he has found the perfect guest, little realising the impact Barry will have on his life…

Like many others, Dinner for Schmucks is a film that attempts to straddle humour with a more heartfelt narrative. Thanks to the performances of Rudd and Carell, the emotion seems genuine, yet the comedy is lacking in comparison. Surprising, considering the talent involved in the film. Whilst there are some laughs to be had, the film does not live up to expectations. The climactic scene, in particular, should have been much more humorous than it is.

As Barry, Carell is amusing, and elicits sympathy in the film’s more serious moments. However, some of the humour from this character falls flat, and he occasionally comes across as annoying. The most humorous characters in the film are Therman (played by Galifianakis) and artist Kieran (Jermaine Clement). Therman is comical in how serious he takes himself, whilst Kieran is often hilarious as the larger-than-life artist interested in Tim’s girlfriend. In a minor role, David Walliams is not as amusing as perhaps the filmmakers intended.

The film’s title sequence depicts the mice artworks (Barry’s hobby) being assembled with pain-staking detail. Accompanied by Theodore Shapiro’s lovely score, this introduction gives the impression of an offbeat, quirky little movie. The marketing for Dinner for Schmucks would suggest a raucous comedy. The end result in fact is neither of these; it is a comedy that fails to be consistently funny.

Furthermore, the message of the film conflicts too overtly with the aim. Whilst on the one hand the audience is supposed to laugh at the peculiarities of Barry, on the other we are told that it is wrong to make fun of people who are a bit different. Had Dinner for Schmucks decided to plump for just one of these opinions (either that it is fine to laugh at others, or that it is wrong), it may have been a better film.

Ultimately, however, Dinner for Schmucks showcases a range of comedic talent let down by a lacklustre script.


Film Review: Going the Distance

07/09/2010

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long prove their chemistry works as well on-screen as it does off in this likeable and surprisingly funny romantic comedy.

Erin and Garrett meet in a New York bar and hit it off. As Erin is due to return to her San Francisco home, the couple agree to keep things light. Once they fall for each other, Erin and Garrett embark on a long distance relationship…

On the surface, Going the Distance shouldn’t work. The premise is hardly thrilling; it is the type of love story that has been done numerous times before. However, Going the Distance works pretty well. It is the combination of the humour and the chemistry between the two leads which make it a very enjoyable movie.

Whilst both Barrymore and Long are good comedic actors, much of the humour is derived from the support cast. Dan and Box, best friends of Garrett, bring a lot of the crude but funny but jokes, whilst Erin’s sister Corinne and her husband Phil work equally well as the married odd couple.

The chemistry between Barrymore and Long will leave the audience rooting for the couple. In the initial scenes between the pair, the writing excels, making their initial attraction appear realistic and authentic. Whilst some aspects of the romance and the humour are not the most original, Going the Distance is one of the better recent entries in the rom-com genre because it successfully balances frequent comedy with believable romance and drama.

Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are well-cast as Garrett’s best friends. There seems to be a natural camaraderie between the pair and Long, which makes their scenes genuinely amusing. Christina Applegate once again shows her flair for comedy as Erin’s highly-strung older sister. Jim Gaffigan compliments Corinne perfectly as her under-the-thumb husband Phil, showing more subtle, but equally effective, comedic style.

Director Nanette Burstein has added a nice touch to Going the Distance by mixing the traditional with the modern. Whilst Erin and Garrett use modern technology to communicate (text messaging and online chat, for example), there are also elements of their courtship that have a more retro feel. The couple meet whilst playing an arcade game, and Erin writes her phone number down on a napkin for Garrett, rather than typing it into his phone. This, coupled with a soundtrack that features The Cure, makes the relationship appear quaint, in a positive sense.

If you are looking for a romantic comedy that is actually lives up to its description, Going the Distance might be just the ticket.


Film Review: Cherry Tree Lane

06/09/2010

This low-budget thriller from the director of The Cottage and London to Brighton aims for a tense atmosphere throughout, but is only partially successful.

Christine and Mike are having dinner in their London home when the doorbell rings. A gang of youths push through, looking for the couple’s son, who is due home shortly…

The film takes place solely in this one house; therefore you would expect a feeling of claustrophobia. This isn’t really reached as often action takes place off-screen, in other rooms of the house. Cherry Tree Lane is not so much a horror movie; it doesn’t offer the moments of fear you would expect from a film like this. Rather, it contains elements of a thriller and a crime film.

The action takes place in real time, an attempt, it seems, to make the film as realistic as possible. Whilst this works on some levels (such as the limited time before the couple’s son is due home), it also reveals the mundaneness of the situation. The tension of the couple being bound and gagged is off-set by one of the gang grabbing a digestive biscuit when he goes into the kitchen. Whilst this real-time style may add authenticity to the action, unfortunately it is not very interesting to watch.

Paul Andrew Williams, who wrote and directed the film, seems to have developed his villains, but only to a certain extent. Of all the characters, Asad (played by Ashley Chin) is the most believable. It seems he has only gone along with the plan on the say-so of leader Rian, and seems to show some compassion to his captives. It is unclear whether the message advocated here is that evil comes in many forms, or that there is good even in those who have shown wickedness.

It is the sound used in Cherry Tree Lane that does the most to generate tension. The film does contain some violence, but most of the more gory segments take place off-screen. It is the sound of these incidents that is unnerving; nothing too graphic is actually depicted but the sound feeds the imagination sufficiently.

The acting is a bit hit-and-miss in Cherry Tree Lane, but perhaps that is not too surprising considering the low budget and brief nature of the shoot (the whole movie was filmed in fourteen days).  The main problem with the film isn’t the acting or the plot holes; it is that Cherry Tree Lane fails to sustain the apprehension so essential to a film such as this. It may aim for the heights of Hitchcock’s Rope, but does not even get close to The Last House on the Left.

Cherry Tree Lane was screened at the Curzon Soho followed by a Q&A session with director Paul Andrew Williams.


Film Review: The Runaways

04/09/2010

One of the aims of this film surely is to encourage viewers to revisit the music of Joan Jett and The Runaways. The film will no doubt be successful on this count; it will be difficult to find one audience member who leaves without the iconic track ‘Cherry Bomb’ playing in their head.

Aspiring rock guitarist Joan Jett wishes to form an all-girl rock band in the 1970s. With the guidance of producer Kim Fowley, The Runaways go on to have great success, but it isn’t plain sailing for the group, particularly singer Cherie Currie…

This biopic was based on the memoirs of Currie, and with Jett as producer it is clear events are grounded in some truth. Notwithstanding, the filmmakers failed to get the consent of all the band members, which explains the elements of fiction. Although it is titled The Runaways, the film is very much the story of Jett and Currie.

The Runaways is very much a coming-of-age picture; depicting the girls growing up in their teen years whilst having their musical success. Thus, there is the sexual and drug experimentations, as well as the more mundane parental problems. The film reveals a notable shift in celebrity from the 1970s to the present day. Whilst the band could get away with a certain amount of bad behaviour behind closed doors, teen stars today do not appear to have quite the same luxury.

Although the film depicts the major events in The Runaways’ career, it does not give a clear sense of time. It shows the band getting signed and their success (particularly in Japan), but condenses later events. For those not schooled in the history of the band, this may be a little misleading.

The Runaways is an entertaining film overall, however on occasion points seem laboured. The lingering shots of Dakota Fanning in stockings and suspenders do not sit easy considering the actress’ young age. Although her costume is authentic of Currie, the protracted gaze is unnecessary. Furthermore, the film continually drives home how difficult it was to be a female musician at the time. Whilst this point is not disputed, the overemphasis is not really necessary; the same message could have been delivered with a degree more subtlety.

Dakota Fanning is excellent as Cherie Currie, proving she is one of the best young actresses around. Kristen Stewart successfully captures the attitude of Joan Jett, whilst Michael Shannon brings the humour as the larger-than-life Fowley. The re-recordings of songs by the cast are competent, but sound a little too polished compared to the originals.

The Runaways is an enjoyable trip to rock’n’roll history. The film is pretty much guaranteed to reignite interest in the band’s music, as well as gain a new generation of fans.