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Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Place Beyond The Pines - Film Review

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane Dehaan.

the place beyond the pines, ryan gosling, eva mendes, luke glanton
Synopsis:

Travelling stuntman Luke Glanton learns he is a father after a brief love affair but with no stable financial prospects to speak of is rejected by ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes). Determined to prove his worth as a father, Luke takes up employment with mechanic and ex-bank robber Robin. Soon Luke picks up where his friend long ago retired, and begins a string of bank heists to provide for his son.

Bradley Cooper is Avery Cross, a local cop keen to live up to the prestige of his father, a respected judge. Struggling to climb the ranks of his career, Avery finds his moment of glory in the films pivotal moment, yet marred by his own dubious morality. When Luke and Avery's paths cross, the encounter sets in motion an emotional story of fathers and sons, morality and redemption.

Thoughts:

Although I adored this film beyond anything, it was one that I preferred not to immediately over analyse and critique. I instead ruminated on how seamlessly two separate narratives - one of the wayward stuntman Luke Glanton, pursuing a life of crime for the benefit of his estranged baby son, the other of morally dubious Avery Cross - weaved into the other. With a generational slant to the story, the two drastically different men leave a potentially devastating legacy to their respective sons.

What I loved above all were the beautifully understated performances from the cast. Ryan Gosling's character left a presence which lingered throughout the latter parts of the story, a ghostly remnant hanging over his troubled son, played by a poignantly weary eyed Dane Dehaan. Gosling's scenes with his infant son are tender and bittersweet, at odds with his harder, tattooed exterior. Possessing a fatherly instinct that is effortlessly innate and pure, Luke is still too wayward to provide the stability his son and Romina need. The film's subtle parallels between father and son are subsequently sad and uplifting, hopeful and helpless as we wonder whether history is doomed to repeat itself or whether it can exonerate those chained to its past.

the place beyond the pines, dane dehaan, jason

The Place Beyond The Pines has a voyeuristic style to it, with wide panning, sky high shots coupled with those closely shadowing characters from behind, almost as if the audience is acting as the silent moral conscience of the story. The cinematography is beautiful, with a sense of poignancy and sadness permeating the overarching themes of forgiveness, self acceptance and redemption. Coupled with a beautiful score including Ennio Morricone's Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of those films hard to leave behind, perhaps best encapsulated by this quote from Dehaan - 

"People always say it lingers you know? Like I saw the film last night and it's still sitting right here."



A melancholic tale of dysfunctional family ties and the ambivalence in what can be defined as right and wrong, The Place Beyond The Pines carries a strong sense of fate and melodrama that suitably appeals to the emotions. A stand out offering from director Derek Cianfrance.


 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Frances Ha - Film Review

Starring: Greta Gerwig
 
Synopsis:

27 year old Francis (Gerwig), an apprentice dancer, is at a loss when best friend Sophie announces plans to move out of their shared apartment. Floating through various living arrangements and piecemeal jobs in the year that follows, Frances becomes increasingly bemused at her lack of prospects compared to those around her. 


 Just as E.M Forster's 'The Longest Journey' quietly found its way into my life with its fortuitous timing (see blog post here), Frances Ha is my cinematic soothsayer equivalent. Millennials and 20-somethings alike would find this utterly relatable for its themes of quarter life restlessness. 

Frances Ha encapsulates the confusion and anxiety felt at the realisation that life is now a competition you had no wish to partake in - especially when it feels like you're losing. Friends who spend every waking moment with you now have plans that for the first time don't include you. Being in your 20s is now considered 'too old', or old enough to by now have a 'suitable job' and second homes.
As a twenty something Londoner, lacking the effortlessly cool apartment and hip neighbourhood to boot, I did feel slightly at a distance to the Manhattan setting and at times irritatingly carefree exploits of the characters. In one of her flippantly nonchalant moods, Frances takes off for a solo weekend in Paris. Bored and alone, the highlight of her Parisian foray is a call from erstwhile friend Sophie, holding out an olive branch to which Frances cannot commit to - being unceremoniously unavailable for flying out of the country on a moment's whim. (How she affords this when much of the film centers around France's financial woes was also to my chagrin). Nevertheless, I did like the whimsical nature of France's decisions, offset to her ever growing realisation that nothing goes to plan.

Her confusion at other people's sense of 'having it together' is both adorable and amusing and perfectly set to a dinner party, where acquaintances are married with second homes in France and express bemusement at Frances attempt to do the 'grown up thing' and ask ironically what their jobs are. This is offset with the more laidback table gatherings with flatmates Lev and Benji, who may not be quite as grown up but still leave Frances incredulous that everyone has it more together than herself. 
 
Greta Gerwig's performance is less frank and self aware as I anticipated it may be with my initial reservation that Frances Ha would be little more than a feature length episode of HBO's Girls. Instead Gerwig is awkward enough to be relatable, yet not so much to be irritatingly self complacent. With jubilous moments such as Frances running down the street to the score of Bowie's 'Modern Love', the carefree but wry element of Frances Ha is more visible for being shot in black and white.
 
 
 Have you seen Frances Ha? What were your thoughts?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas - Book Review

the love of my life, book review, louise douglas, love of my life book 
Synopsis: After the sudden death of husband Luca, Olivia [Liv] finds herself bereft of her companion in life. Spurned by their families for the embarrassment and emotional ramifications of their ill advised union and subsequent elopement, Liv makes the gut wrenching decision to relocate back to where she and Luca first met. The Love of My Life is set to the picturesque beach front town of Watersford, home to Marinella's, the family restaurant and backdrop to Liv and Luca's early life, both together and apart.

With no family or friends to speak of, and only the almost tangible memories of Luca to console herself with, Liv finds solace in the company of the only Marinella who doesn't express disdain at her arrival - Marc, Luca's twin brother. In their desolation and grief, the pair develop a mutual need for one another, both physically and emotionally.
 
Juggling her grief and guilt whilst enduring the perpetual hostility of her in-laws, Liv begins a job as a research assistant at the local university, working for a taciturn professor on his controversial biography of a Watersford author. The Love of My Life takes us through Liv's past and present, both with and without Luca and her struggle to find her new place in life.

Thoughts:

Douglas has taken a straight forward plot, and stock characters (i.e. the death of a spouse, inhospitable in-laws, extra marital affairs) and shaken off the usual literary stereotypes and assumptions one would usually associate with them. For instance, the affair is refrained from being regarded as anything sordid or disrespectful to Luca's memory. Liv expresses guilt and remorse for her actions and her grief is at times all consuming to the point where it isn't a far stretch to feel sympathy at her situation. Isolated and chastised for her decisions, both in the past and present, Liv is almost a social pariah, judged for the indiscretions and mishaps of her youth that have doggedly clung to her reputation as an adult.

As the story progresses, Douglas flicks back and forth through Liv's timeline, alternating between the present, newly widowed state and Liv's younger self.  The narrative is at times melodiously written, which I found myself thinking was quite odd for a first person perspective - it seemed out of keeping with the accessible style of Liv's tone. However as the story reminds you towards the end, it is in fact a written log of Liv's life post-Luca. Upon this realisation, I appreciated Douglas's knack of commenting on the smaller facets of a scene to create a world for her character that we're permitted unfettered access to. I never felt it to be a biased narrative, as although Liv discusses what could easily be perceived as a checkered past (through noone's fault but her own), she has no qualms in accepting her blame where due.

I personally would have preferred a bit more development for the supporting characters. Much of what we have is from Liv's perspective and from her younger self we know that naivety is not always lacking. I was intrigued by Nathalie, Liv's sister-in-law and Marc's wife, who is especially thorny to Liv and her return. Although we are given justification and insight into her motivations and attitude, I would have liked more interaction between her and Liv. 


Have you read The Love of My Life?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn - Book Review

dark places, gillian flynn, book review, gone girlSynopsis:  

Libby Day is the sole survivor of the horrific massacre which claimed the lives of her mother and two elder sisters. Serving a life sentence is older misfit brother Ben Day. A reserved 15 year old, rumoured to have been associated with a satanic 'gang' at the time, Ben has yet to deny his involvement in the murders.

Having lived off the charity and monetary good will of the sympathetic, Libby has forged herself a reclusive (although not a content) existence. With funds depleting, Libby reluctantly agrees to make a 'special appearance' for the 'Kill Club' - a group of unsolved murder 'super fans.' Libby is initially embittered and dismayed to realise that the club is campaigning for Ben's release, believing him to be an innocent scapegoat for the massacre.

In exchange for cash, Libby embarks on a grim trip down memory lane, revisiting those connected to the events surrounding the murders. Already a dubious witness to the crime for being so young and most likely having produced a heavily scripted testimony, Libby pieces together exactly what happened and why.

** This Post Contains Spoilers **

My lasting impressions of Flynn's work is that she establishes and deftly maintains a strong thread of suspense throughout her narratives. As with Gone Girl, 'Dark Places' switches the perspective with each chapter, alternating between present day Libby, a sardonic and far from well adjusted adult, and the past Ben and Patty Day - the family's pallid matriarch - on the fated day in question.

What is admirable in Flynn's storytelling is her ability to run the present and past at parallels. She creates a slow building climb through the past, as it crawls out of cloaked truths simultaneously to Libby's own recent discoveries. She has a tight grip on the narrative, able to scatter events and scraps of information across the two timelines to converge at a watertight conclusion.
Ben possesses burgeoning resentment at what he feels to be the ever humiliating emasculation from living in a dilapidated, female dominated household. Ridiculed by his errant father for being effeminate, and constantly at pains from his mother to appease his sisters, Ben becomes quietly determined to assert his masculinity. Thoughts of 'annihilation', befriending a group of erstwhile drifters, including girlfriend Diondra and friend Trey, both with a penchant for the macabre and bloody, all contribute to the picture of a prime suspect.

When reading 'Dark Places', what stuck in mind was the feeling that Flynn staunchly pushes the point that everything can be explained. In essence, a few coincidences equated with the truth. Incriminating evidence is often neatly explained away, and although this provides the story with some satisfying twists, it sometimes felt these were robbed of impact for being mundane.

As with Gone Girl, I felt that the more obvious conclusion and assumption would have been the most apt. Sometimes I prefer the straight forward explanation as opposed to a plot rife with red herrings. Ultimately, I would have preferred if Ben HAD been guilty to a greater extent than the plot provides. It would have opened a more interesting psychological aspect to his character. Instead I felt the truth of the massacres to fall slightly flat. Although still horrific and haunting, the end seemed to suddenly shift direction in a way that although made sense, was not too endearing.

What I also found disappointing was that Ben's interest in the dark and satanic is never fully explained, even though we have his perspective at our disposal. Flynn seems to glean over Ben's growing attraction to this unsettling preoccupation. Instead, his thoughts are spontaneous and little elaborated on. Even in his incarcerated adult state, Flynn refrains from exploring the effect of Ben's involvement with the satanic in his later years.


 I did thoroughly enjoy Flynn's work but have twice found that the endings fall short of the rest of the plot. I would like to see her provide us with the more anticipated conclusion, leaving the rest of the story to deal with the ramifications.

(Note: I'm thinking a bit of Broadchurch here. There was much debate on why the show lacked the huge 'whodunnit' twist, when instead it was directed towards examining the consequences and emotional ramifications resultant of the crime.)

Have you read Dark Places or other Gillian Flynn novels? What are your thoughts?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks - Book Review



engleby, sebastian faulks, engleby book review
 
Mike Engleby, a working class undergraduate attending one of the country's prestigious universities, is our observer to the aftermath of the disappearance of popular student Jennifer Arkland.

Fueled with expectations of a taut thriller and dubious narrator and only 'Birdsong' as my previous foray into Faulks-ian fiction, I was taken aback by the stark difference in rhetoric style employed in Engleby. Whereas Birdsong is melodiously written, entrenched in beautiful (and equally devastating) descriptions of the most minute character expressions and surroundings, Engleby is almost devoid of such narration.

The book almost reads like a diary - one long narration from Mike, who initially we have no reason to distrust as our eyes and ears to the world he inhabits. Talking us through his undergraduate days, Mike often pulls us back to his troubled school past, coupled with obscured peeks into his ambiguous home life.

Soon, Mike's actions become increasingly more confusing and uncomfortable to the reader - even more so for the indications towards a deeper investment in Jennifer's personal life. It becomes clear that Mike is not the most stable of individuals, continuously engaging in some morally ambiguous endeavour. In particular, his voyeuristic objectification of women is a disconcerting facet to his character.

Always providing some abstract justification, it's clear Mike is (or at least considers himself to be) a very smart individual, although a manipulative one, and well practiced in throwing us off his moral misdemeanors with his abstracted manner towards storytelling.

 I was disappointed with Engleby and this is probably more a reflection on my own understanding of the novel than the actual story itself. I found it hard to keep up with the narration, as it often felt as if I were overwhelmed with a more intellectual voice. Now this only added to the unease of trying to understand Mike and his thoughts, which is great for the novel as a thriller, but in terms of reader satisfaction, I felt quite lost.

I wouldn't necessarily discourage potential readers from picking this up as their next read. In fact I've made a promise to myself to come back to Engleby with a fresh mind one day and see if I can't appreciate it more on a second attempt.

... I'd quite like to see Engleby adapted for the screen, as I got a Inspector Morse/Lewis-esque mood from the book!


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Leaving (Partir) - Film Review

leaving film, partir, kristen scott thomas, sergi lopez, film reviewStarring: Kristen Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez, Yvan Attal

 

French with English subtitles

Synopsis: 

Suzanne (Scott Thomas), a middle-class housewife, finds herself drawn to builder Ivan (Lopez). Soon sparking into an intense love affair, Suzanne struggles to extricate herself from the life she shares with her husband and children.

Thoughts: 

The affair is explored as a maddening rush of lust and love between Suzanne and Ivan. Their scenes are a collage, cut between shots of ecstatic lovemaking and tender moments of the couple playing family with Ivan's young, estranged daughter.

In what is a slight departure from the usual offering of motive on the woman's part, - i.e. the bored, neglected housewife who's seduced by the exciting inticement of a man whom lavishes her with the attention and much needed affirmation she craves -  'Leaving' depicts the affair as sparked by an almost chemical reaction between Suzanne and Ivan.

First the relationship is built on the platonic foundations of teamwork, when Ivan is hired as builder for the outhouse to Suzanne's physiotherapy business. Mutual dependence is acknowledged and appreciated, soon developing into an intense, almost unbearable passion for each other. There are of course the comparison shots highlighting the ever widening chasm between Suzanne and her husband, and the unrivaled intimacy with Ivan.

Kristen Scott-Thomas gives a raw and visceral performance. Her expressions and movements are those of a woman long out of touch with the instinct of romantic love. The awe and shock at the intensity of her own feelings is palpable and allows for a detraction from Suzanne as a target of antipathy. This doesn't necessarily equate with sympathy or justification for her unfaithfulness and at times Suzanne is rather candid with regards to her infidelity. Her astonishment at the pull she feels towards Ivan is compelling and a matter of intrigue rather than admonishment for the audience.

Leaving (Partir) is an open and raw portrayal of infidelity as a vehicle of self-discovery and reaffirmation. The performances are frank and infused with the intensity of pure, unbridled emotion.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Prisoners (2013) - Film Review

Starring:  
Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhall and Paul Dano.

Synopsis:

When the young daughters of close friends and neighbours Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) disappear one Thanksgiving day, suspicions immediately point towards resident, Alex Jones, who is taken and then released for lack of evidence. Assigned to the case is Detective Loki, who finds himself at odds with the aggrieved Keller, who takes Jones hostage in a desperate bid to save his child.


prisoners film, hugh jackman, paul dano, film reviewThoughts:
  
Prisoners dutifully ticks off the 'missing child' checklist so ubiquitous in such films:
the close knit family, check, obligatory sleepy town, check, an ever growing stock of suspects, each increasingly more creepier than the last, check, check and check. 

Don't however make the mistake of dismissing Prisoners as another cliché-ridden drama. It takes these devices and scatters them appropriately throughout. Always as a means of driving the story forward, instead of clumsy attempts to keep the audience in constant guesswork as to the true suspect's identity. 

Most appreciated is the fact that Prisoners plays on the audience's ignorance, but chooses not to exploit it with gaping plot holes. Nothing is unexplained, but instead neatly slots together in what can at times feel like a slightly labyrinth-ian style plot (Hint: I use with the word labyrinth for good reason...) Prisoners did have me curled up in anticipated fear, and definitely had me with hand over mouth as it lures the audience into unbelievable turns of plot (A word of warning - those with a nervous disposition towards snakes should watch with caution!)

prisoners film, hugh jackman, jake gyllenhall
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in an understated performance as the acerbic Detective Loki. Altogether not the most likeable or affable of men, though a glad departure from the worn out stock character of 'tortured' detective. (Think deep rooted alcoholism and aggression issues). Although a murkier childhood is alluded to, Prisoners decides to eschew from developing this further. Thankfully so - again any personal demons calling his professional integrity into question are sidestepped in favour of a more straightforward characterisation.

Paul Dano is suitably creepy as the prime suspect in no one's eye but Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, the aggrieved father of one of the missing girls. Police efforts are soon concentrated elsewhere due to Dano's regressed mental state, though Keller is convinced otherwise. He implements his own brand of justice in hopes to extract a confession that will lead him to his child. Dano plays up the part with simpering, childlike mannerisms, with hints of a sinister streak lurking menacingly in the shadows of his apparently fragile psyche. Jackman is a strong screen presence, though I felt as though the role wasn't particularly challenging in any great sense.

Prisoners is a smart thriller, that respects its audience enough to avoid clichéd conventions of the 'missing child' genre.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Uwantme2killhim? - Film Review

Starring: Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Jaime Winstone and Joanna Froggart.


uwantme2killhim, toby regbo, jamie blackley, film reviewSynopsis:

Schoolboy Mark is arrested for stabbing fellow pupil John. A bright, popular student who shows promise on the football pitch, the question posed from the start is why? Remaining tight lipped as to his motives, DI Sarah Clayton delves into Mark's online life in a bid to put the case to bed.

Having developed a romantic relationship with a girl [Rachel] online, Mark is drawn into her world of domestic violence and stories of witness protection. The in hiding Rachel soon urges Mark to look after her bullied brother John - his classmate - in fear that she will soon no longer be around to protect him. What ensues is a series of increasingly alarming tales from the chat rooms, prompting acts of grief and revenge in a twisted story of false identity and manipulation.

Thoughts:

Based on true events - the original article can be found here - set in the early 00's, with our now smug benefit of hindsight it's an unbelievable story. With our present knowledge of online 'stranger danger', and the consequent safeguards, I watched uwantme2killhim? with increasing incredulity.

Mark is naïve and gullible to a destructive extent. Absorbing every last word from the computer screen, he first becomes infatuated with Rachel, a girl he never physically meets, who unknown to Mark, coincidentally has a brother in his class. He readily accepts her pleas to befriend the meek and mild John, who then teeters on the edge of a slightly desperate attachment to Mark.

uwantme2killhim, film review, toby regbo, jamie blackley
The story veers into exaggerated territory - suicide, the criminal underworld, correspondence with MI5 and suspected terrorist plots. Again, all the more bizarre when regarded in light that this is in based on true events.

Blackley and Regbo are well cast in the roles of Mark and John. Blackley possesses a strong sense of self assuredness, played well against the character's gullible nature. 

Uwantme2killhim? plants the seeds of this almost fatal character flaw in an early scene, where Mark boasts of needing a single novel idea to get rich quick - the details he asserts are not important - it's the idea that matters. Thus we have our source of audience exasperation - Mark, for all his confidence and mild arrogance, is extraordinarily naïve.

 Details and credibility are blithely pushed aside in favour of taking the world at face value. 

 Regbo shines as the pallid John, ridiculed and bullied at school, with the vulnerability and fragility of a little boy lost. Visibly shrinking away from his tormentors as much as he exhibits attempts to impress the starkly opposite Mark. Regbo carefully crafts his performance to teeter between pathos and eerie desperation to please and be accepted, with later more sinister undertones, perfectly executed with machiavellian-esque eyes of glee.
Together Blackley and Regbo complement each other brilliantly, forging an almost brotherly affection at odds with the adage of familiarity breeding contempt. 

Uwantme2killhim? is a slow burner, though works surely towards what's a very twisted conclusion. It's not too hard to spot what's coming, and the latter stages of the film clearly dot about a few choice clues to guide us there.
 
uwantme2killhim, film review, toby regbo, jamie blackley

  Uwantme2killhim? is a worrying account of the power of the internet blurring the lines of reality and morality. Online our reality is whatever we want it to be. Uwantme2killhim? impresses on the unnerving ramifications of when this reality creeps into the offline world, with devastating effects.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy - Book Review

thomas hardy, book review, wessex tales, hardy, wessex
This is a great introduction to those unfamiliar with Hardy's work. Easy to digest and never 'bogged down' with allusive or flowery language, this is Hardy stripped down. Each tale possesses its own element of scandal, with characters embroiled in extra-marital affairs of the heart, illegitimate children and jealousy. What's all the more tantalising is often Hardy refrains from being so explicit. Much is revealed through the gossipy aside from an otherwise irrelevant stock character, with the seed planted for the reader to let their speculation grow.

Hardy loves a good plot twist, so for those who like a bit of suspense in their classic lit, this is the perfect read.

Below are my thoughts on my favourite of the tales


The Imaginative Woman

An unfulfilled housewife, her intellect unchallenged by her blasé husband and her want of passion unmet, becomes infatuated with the absent tenant of a room she is temporarily occupying. With only the thinnest of associations between them, Ella Marchmill becomes increasingly desperate in her attempts to orchestrate a meeting - one she vainly hopes may turn a correspondence into something more real. In this short tale, Hardy paints a passionate vignette of unrequited love laden with irony.

I loved the irony in this tale. Hardy perfectly evokes the maddening desperation of an unrequited 'relationship' - made all the more desperate considering that the 'couple' never physically meet or actually see each other. I'm always drawn to the timelessness of a story's sentiment or message, and in an updated version, this same tale could be told in the modern world of social media and 'Facebook stalking' - though the premise is a lot more eloquently put in 'The Imaginative Woman'! This was surprisingly straight forward to read, and for those not yet familiar with his work, a brilliant first foray into Hardy.

Have you read 'The Wessex Tales' - which are your favourites?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Simon and the Oaks by Marianne Fredricksson - Book Review

Having already watched and posted my thoughts on 'Simon and the Oaks' here, I've been itching to read and review the novel. Originally in Swedish (an English translation is available - I found mine on Waterstones' Marketplace, a treasure trove for anyone looking for rare or out-of-print books), the translation at times lends to a slightly disjointed syntax, with occasionally odd word placements. Nevertheless, I wasn't disappointed.

Simon and the Oaks
 
 
Note: I would recommend that you watch the film before reading the book. I felt the novel to be a bit keen in revealing key twists early on. Had I known about these crucial turning points when watching the film, I know I would have felt slightly let down.

The novel is much more a saga than the film, chronicling Simon's life from early boyhood into young adulthood and far beyond where the film takes us. Whereas the film ends in Simon's onset into adulthood, the novel takes us into the unexplored regions of his later life including time served in the army and his later archaeological career.

What struck me most about the novel is the time it devotes to all characters involved, as opposed to the film which places Simon as very much the focus of its story. Whereas we see much from his perspective, the novel commits a mini psychological study to each character, providing a deeper insight into the motivations driving their behaviour. Nobody is without their personal demons, and whereas the film prefers to depict the characterisations rather simply - i.e. Simon's father as a pragmatic and domineering man, the novel is more forgiving. This is especially the case with regards to Simon's mother. The film's characterisation has her imbued with sadness, whereas the novel complements this by emphasising her strength and endurance.

This is a psychologically driven novel, which the film only hinted at by way of the timelessness evoked by music and nature. There is a Jungian undercurrent to Simon's characterisation, which Fredricksson reflects in Simon's dreams. The point is put across all the more explicitly in the following quote -

"Children are of the earth, she thought, with the ancient history of the earth in their cells and the entire wisdom of nature in the circulation of their blood."

With some further reading into Jung, there are various parallels between the psychologist's early life and Simon's. Both struggle with the enormity of obeying God's will and the burden of being so in tune with one's unconscious. This is particularly evident in a shared disillusion both Jung and Simon express with priests. (See Jung's 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' for further reading). There are even hints of Milgram, in the novel's expression that there may be, "... a sergeant in all of us..." Whether this is a deliberate literary device by Fredriksson or not, it adds to the historical entrenchment and universality of the novel's themes of war and the human condition. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Womb - Film Review

Starring: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Hannah Murray and Lesley Manville

womb film, womb film review, eva green, matt smith
Synopsis:
 A holiday romance between two youngsters is rekindled in early adulthood when Rebecca (Eva Green) returns to the shoreline home of her late grandfather. Reunited with Tommy (Matt Smith), the couple re-embark on their relationship only for time together to be cut short after Tommy's sudden demise. Grief stricken for a life never fully realised together, Rebecca makes the controversial decision to give birth to and raise Tommy's clone. The decision proves to have destructive ramifications for future relationships, which suffer for their entrenchment with the past.
Thoughts:
I couldn't help but draw comparisons between 'Womb' and Mark Romanek's 'Never Let Me Go.' Both tackle the theme of mortality and the sanctity of life. Though where 'Never Let Me Go' prompts us to grapple with the idea of cloning for the greater good (i.e. developing cures for diseases), 'Womb' presents us with an altogether more selfish reason - to simply bring back the dearly departed. Here, there are no potential health benefits for the future, nor are there any ostensible societal improvements.
Indeed 'Womb' paints an uncomfortable vignette, with the clones addressed disdainfully as 'copies'. Attached with an almost racially derivative stigma, it's clear the process isn't wholly accepted. 'Womb' most aptly puts this across through the excited curiosity of a young boy, who debates as to whether a recently encountered  'copy' smelt like window cleaner. Irony would have it that said boy with his benign prejudice is in fact Tommy 2.0.


womb film, womb film review, eva green
The futility of death is made clear in 'Womb' - Tommy's death is an ultimately unnecessary one. A keen environmental activist on the cusp of his most ambitious endeavour renders his life cut short unfair. So to bring him back and to start his life from the beginning is all the more controversial when rationalised as such.  Where is the greater good?

 Unfortunately, the myriad of questions raised at this point aren't addressed. Is a clone a blank slate or do they have some semblance of their former selves? What restrictions are there on cloning (if any at all)? Rebecca is not a blood relative and despite disapproval, it doesn't seem that parental consent is a requirement for the process. The apparent ease of protocol for such an immense endeavour is thus all the more disturbing.

Hayley Atwell - Black Mirror

Rebecca makes her decision in haste. There's no grieving period. As in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror (Be Right Back), the one left behind can't fathom life without their departed. Rather they channel grief into a more tangible denial - a carbon copy resurrection. The underlying thread in both 'Womb' and 'Black Mirror's Be Right Back' is that you can't beat the real thing. In each instance the copy proves to be hollow. They look identical, sound identical and with some prodding can tap into an earlier semblance of themselves. Yet where Black Mirror pushes through the hopelessness of resurrecting the dead and depicts its clone relatively harmless in its earnestness to please its owner, Womb has an altogether more sinister undertone. Here it's played out with incestuous undercurrents and sporadic outbursts of frustrated anger.

Green's acting is both restrained and desperate. I've always admired her ability to encapsulate the darker characters. Whether for being slightly unhinged or out of sync with their milieu, she always manages to play her part with the right amount of ambiguity. (Watch Franklyn and Cracks) I wasn't altogether too convinced with Smith's portrayal. Although as playful and wide-eyed as his younger counterpart, I never felt too enthralled with the more 'angst-ridden' scenes.

I enjoyed the scenery of 'Womb' - setting the narrative to a sleepy village near the sea was perfect for creating a sense of isolation and remoteness. Secrets don't remain as such for long in this contained context, whilst hostility and resentment are palpable between those who 'copy' and those who don't.


Noted...

domhnall gleeson, never let me go, black mirror
Domhnall Gleeson in Never Let Me Go and Black Mirror
  • Both Black Mirror's Be Right Back and Never Let Me Go star Domhnall Gleeson in the role of a clone
  • The male protagonists of both Womb and Never Let Me Go are named Tommy

  • Both Never Let Me Go and Womb feature an abandoned, derelict boat beached on the shore. Whereas in NLMG, the boat may represent themes of mortality and freedom, in Womb it could be a motif for the isolation of the 'copies' and those who birthed them. In Womb I had the impression that it formed a brief sanctuary for Rebecca.



Empty Space - Air Traffic
"You've done enough, he's still alive and he's breathing on his own"

Have you seen Womb? Are there any more parallels you found between Womb and themes of cloning in other literature and/or film?


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Simon and the Oaks (Simon och erkana) Film Review

Note: In Swedish with English subtitles

simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
 Simon Larsson is a cerebral child, the son of a boat maker and his wife, whose deep penchant for history, books and art is out of keeping with his working-class roots. The disharmony between Simon's upbringing and his yearning for the more intellectual threads of life is most palpable in an early scene between the youngster and his father. Mr. Larsson warns Simon to remember where he comes from, after reluctantly enrolling his son in a grammar school frequented by the wealthy.

There Simon meets Isak, the Jewish son of a wealthy bookstore owner. Simon is introduced to and enamoured with the world of the upper classes and soon finds himself on a path which sets him further apart from the values of his upbringing.
simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana

Isak and his father however come from a volatile background of their own and the backdrop of WW2 serves to heighten the turbulence of what becomes an inextricable link between the two families. Both harbour secrets which hang menacingly throughout the narrative and prompt Simon on a journey of painful self-discovery.
Isak escapes from the persecution of the Jews and his own personal demons in the solace of Simon's home life, building a surrogate relationship with Mr. Larrson. The two relish in their shared love for practical labour, to the detriment and expense of the already strained relationship between Simon and his father. Likewise, Simon finds a kindred spirit in Isak's father who indulges his love for music and history, all the while impressing on Simon that ultimately his life choices are his own.

simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana

The discord of Simon's familial relationships and the angry overtones of war denote the enduring gulf between Simon and those around him. He finds solace in and draws comfort from the unyielding, stalwart oak tree of the film's title. Daydreaming amongst the imagined whispers of history as they ride on the wind and through its branches, the Oak tree symbolises a sense of constancy and placement that Simon so desires.

 Jonatan S. Wächter delivers a stand-out performance, eclipsing those of his older counterparts with an ephemeral quality which fits perfectly with Simon's transient nature. His manner evokes that of an old soul, haunted with the anxieties of the past and bereft of somebody who can truly understand him. Bill Skarsgård maintains the childlike quality of his younger counterpart's performance as he takes the torch from Wächter and carries it into Simon's teenage years. A wide eyed young man, Skarsgård's Simon drifts further from within himself in a journey of wider self-discovery, family secrets and romantic relations.

Bill Skarsgård, simon and the oaks, simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
 Simon and the Oaks' cinematography features beautiful shots of nature at its most peaceful - untouched by the violence of war and the turmoil of the narrative. With the overwhelming changes to Simon's world, both personally and with regards to the wider political context, both he and the audience derive a sense of calm from the ageless and rural pastoral. The soundtrack is equally as stirring, evoking the same sense of yearning possessed by Simon in aching violin notes with beautiful, melodious undertones. In both nature and music, Simon finds his peace and place in the world - fitting, for both are timeless and belong to no time or context.
"It was as if I knew it. As if... I'd been there before. Inside the music."
simon and the oaks film, simon och erkana
"Jewish" - Annette Focks
A beautifully shot coming of age tale, this film prompted me to seek out its novel counterpart, which I will endeavour to post about soon!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Longest Journey - E.M Forster (Book Review)

Rickie Elliot, a Cambridge graduate, grapples with his existential ideals and literary aspirations with the unpleasant practicalities of life. 

I have to admit upon buying this book I committed the age old sin of judging by its cover. If there's one thing I love about TK Maxx, it's scouring through their book section. Amidst the cook books and travel guides, you're guaranteed to find a random literary gem. A quick scan of the blurb and an impulse purchase was made - little did I realise how poignant it was that I came to choose The Longest Journey at the time.
e.m. forster, the longest journey, the longest journey book review

Completing my final year exams, I felt disillusioned with life in general. It felt odd not to have the comfort of knowing I'd be returning to education in September to alleviate any guilt from a somewhat idle summer. Neither did it help that the overwhelming task of properly starting a 'working life' had become more apparent than ever before. I immediately missed the library and the silent camaraderie of that environment. I really appreciated that this revision period would be the last of my life, and I would never really engage in learning in quite the same way again.

The Longest Journey has been the perfect read for such an ambivalent time. Centred on Rickie Elliot, the protagonist of the novel and a recent graduate of Cambridge, the story follows his endeavours to appreciate and understand the philosophical ideals of truth and beauty, his search for a higher purpose and his ill-advised marriage to the object of his infatuation, Agnes Pembroke. The novel is split into three parts, tracing Rickie's journey from university, his engagement to Agnes and relationship with the morally dubious Aunt Emily, to his reluctant career as a public school teacher.

Rickie is an idealist and indulges in the solace he derives from the common purpose he and his friends share at Cambridge - the quest for higher knowledge. Grappling with existentialism, Rickie deplores that he has yet to possess the same grade of thinking as his peers. Yet what he might lack in philosophical acumen, Rickie makes up for in a more personable appreciation of the human condition - specifically, the fragility of relationships.

"But he was not cynical - or cynical in a very tender way. He was thinking of the irony of friendship - so strong it is, and so fragile. We fly together, like straws in an eddy, to part in the open stream. Nature has no use for us: she has cut her stuff differently. Dutiful sons, loving husbands, responsible fathers - these are what she wants, and if we are friends it must be in our spare time.
'I wish we were labelled.' said Rickie. He wishes that all the confidence and mutual knowledge that is born in such a place as Cambridge could be organised. People went down in the world saying 'We know and like each other; we shan't forget. But they did forget, for man is so made that he cannot remember long without a symbol; he wishes there was a society, a kind of friendship office, where the marriage of true minds could be registered."

It's passages like these I found comforting. If you're in the same ambiguous transition, you find an affinity with Rickie. For all his grandiose notions of seeking the ultimate good in people - an endeavour for which he is chastised for by his practical-minded friends -
'You think it so splendid to hate no one. I tell you it is a crime. You want to love everyone equally and that's worse than impossible. It's wrong.'
- he ironically hits upon the effect of such practicalities on our lives. We lose friends to make way for social convention and propriety, and this is what Rickie finds so lamentable - despite engaging in these conventions himself. This is evident in his engagement to Agnes and his later career as a school teacher - one that carries him further away from his real enthusiasm in becoming a writer.

The novel moves swiftly from one third to the next, though at times the narrative dwells just a little too long on scenic or architectural descriptions. This is quite at odds with Rickie's point of view, which is almost always concerned with moral propriety and higher ideals. To me it was always a way of reminding the audience of the contrast between Rickie's inner dialogue and that of his surrounding milieu.
Otherwise, Forster isn't too concerned with the intricate complexities of how relationships develop. He identifies the most significant moments and important transitions  and uses these to drive the story and Rickie's journey forward.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Trance - Film Review

**This Post May Contain Spoilers**


Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer, is embroiled in a heist gone wrong, the botched attempt leaving him without recollection of what happened that day - much to the anger of his criminal associates (led by Vincent Cassell). In a desperate attempt to prompt his memory and locate the missing art piece, he turns to hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who believes she can unlock Simon's memory. Uncertain of who to trust, Simon endures the protracted process of trying to remember what is real amidst false and suppressed memories - all the while growing dangerously close to Elizabeth.

  trance film, trance danny boyle, trance james mcavoy, james mcavoy

If there is an actor I trust above all others to put on a solid performance, it's James McAvoy. When picking films, more often than not, I'm guilty of basing my decisions on the casting (much to the chagrin of my nearest and dearest!) It's not that I blithely bias myself to solely watch films for the lone reason that I 'like' an actor. It's certainly a consideration but there are a select few in my eyes who I trust with their choice of roles. There are inevitably exceptions to this rule - this logic once led me to watch an obscure biopic on a Hawaiian princess... but it's a habit of mine, and one I don't think I'm alone in indulging in!

 Back to my main point - Any film with McAvoy will be a firm favourite with me. And I've been doubly excited that he has two films (the other being Welcome to the Punch) currently out in cinemas.
  Trance was in a word - amazing. (Note: it took a lot of self-control to not make a hypnotism pun here!) I was hooked. I don't want to laden this post with spoilers and an in-depth analysis of the plot. I will say it was very intricate and did require you to constantly rewind and keep track of the story, which gave it a very compelling edge. (This sounds a bit obvious and non-committal - but it really was a plot which kept you replaying previous events over and over again, whilst you took in what was happening there and then on screen).

I'm finding it hard not to talk in cinematic clichés because this film genuinely ticked a lot of the right boxes - see, one already! There was a great deal of tension, action-oriented sequences, twists within a twist - it was just unlike any film I'd seen before. What struck me most was how signatory it was of a Boyle film. Obviously in most cases, the director is not the writer - but this had such a distinct style that I wasn't too surprised to learn that Boyle also had screenwriting credit. There was the signature gore and the brilliant trance-like sequences which all came to fit together neatly in what became another twist of events - a ploy used expertly without becoming fatigued. He really knows how to stamp his mark.

trance film, trance danny boyle, trance james mcavoy, vincent cassell, james mcavoy


 What I loved all the more was that whenever a trance-sequence was in play, unless explicitly stated, it was never expected. There were moments where very much like McAvoy's character, you'd be shaken out of whatever state you had lulled yourself into and realise what you were seeing weren't the bare facts. When a character would jump out of a reverie-like state, there was always the worry that it could be a cop-out; the horrible 'waking from a dream' trick - but fortunately with Trance this doesn't happen.

McAvoy as ever was on perfect form. He ran a gamut of characterisations in one persona, and brilliantly so. From the initial, glass-cut accented art-auctioneer, to the weakest link in a criminal gang with dormant but explosive personality flaws, this was a role fit for a man who's versatility is champion. The character is fractured and disorientated and I always had the feeling that there was more to him - a side that would be revealed later on. This happened to a fierce extent, and McAvoy played it with such panache that it seemed so plausible. He had a mastery of luring you into this character who appears a pawn in a mixed up game, so all the while we never really stop to question his integrity.

 You emotionally invest in him and prioritise him to come out on top. But why? Trance deliberately gives us very little inside information to the character other than his occupation. What we have to go on is his behaviour in the here and now - and yet we trust McAvoy from the start because he serves as a distraction from himself.

  Rosario Dawson was perfectly cast. Her calm and sometimes eerie manner fit expertly with her character. Despite being the protagonist's only hope, she never appeared trustworthy nor completely deceitful. I've never described a character as an enigma before, but she is undoubtedly the first. Vincent Cassel led the supporting cast but I didn't think he embodied his character in quite the same way as his co-stars. He fit the exterior well - the slick art thief and head of a criminal gang, but there just didn't seem enough focus on his character for us to make a solid judgement. I personally would have liked a bit more into his psyche and what made him tick but Trance doesn't commit too much time to this. Additionally, a burgeoning romance between his character and Dawson's isn't really given enough screen time to become believable once it's significant to the story's outcome.

I would highly, highly recommend Trance. The story keeps your mind ticking for a long while after you leave the cinema and for good reason. McAvoy and Dawson put on stellar performances, and Boyle again cements his status as a director tour de force.

Playlist
Radiohead: Talk Show Host
The Cure: Secrets
Aqualung: Strange & Beautiful (I'll Put A Spell On You)
Arctic Monkeys: If You Were There, Beware
Bill Ryder-Jones: By the Church of Appolonia
Arctic Monkeys: Dance Little Liar
The Coral: The Box
The Last Shadow Puppets: Gas Dance
Ludovico Einaudi: Nightbook




This particular track seemed very apt when I thought of the film. A sinister package which warns the protagonist not to open under any circumstances, but which soon drives him mad with curiosity reminded me of the of the dangers associated with unlocking Simon's memories.
 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury (Post Pt. 1)

I hadn't read a collection of short stories in a very long time and I was a little sceptical that this wouldn't meet my expectations. I wouldn't say I was an aficionado of science fiction in any big way (other than being completely enamoured with the David Tennant era of Doctor Who) so upon realising Bradbury is a leading light in the science fiction literary realm, my hopes were slightly dashed.
 
the illustrated man, the illustrated man book review, ray bradbury


But they needn't have been. Whatsoever. I loved it. I loved the idea of the Illustrated Man; a mysterious being with the most intricate and elaborate tattoos, each a vignette of what could be.
Bradbury's style is stark. There's a great dearth in detail and each story is stripped to the bare minimum - ironically in contrast to how vivid and complex the sight of the Illustrated Man is supposed to be.

This doesn't detract from the reader's enjoyment at all. The greatness lies in Bradbury's ability to haunt you long after the story ends. Some really chilled me, others made me think of the potential inevitability in his words. What happens if technology advances to the point where it can think for itself? What if we become so disconnected as a society that we can't see what it is right in front of us? What if we become so blinded by striving for the greater good, that we fail to realise the greater good is actually something rather sinister?

In particular, I loved "The Veldt" - a sinister tale of a children's playroom or 'nursery' with a mind of its own - and "The Last Night of the World"- a short retelling of a day in the life of a couple who learn that it is their last.


The dystopian, futuristic and outer space themes in the book really reminded me of 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust' and Bowie's excessive glam rock era. The idea of a fallen idol, who lived too fast and came to warn Earth of its impending doom really fit in with Bradbury's work.


david bowie

 

As each story is so different and unrelated from one another, wouldn't it be interesting for The Illustrated Man to be re-made, each its own mini-film or short, directed and produced by a different person? Each completely different in terms of interpretation and style. A different cast. Different score.

I'm thinking a lot of the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - I know there's only the one director in that case (I think Terry Gillam would be very apt!), but the idea of changing the actors for a single character is an interesting take; so a series of mini-casts would be endearing. I heard there are plans to re-make The Illustrated Man but this was circa 2007...


 

One of my next posts will be on a few connections I thought of between the stories in 'The Illustrated Man' to other literary works and film.
 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Father! Father! Burning Bright - Alan Bennett (Book Review)

I bought this book via eBay on a whim, having already purchased 'The Lady in the Van' - which I've yet to read but will post about soon! I've been a bit of a dilettante when it comes to Alan Bennett. The History Boys is one of my favourite films and the play really hit home with its portrayal of education fostering the ideal of learning for the sake of (and only for the sake of) passing exams; but I've actually yet to really delve into his exhaustive works.

alan bennett, alan bennett father father burning bright, father father burning bright book review
 
I've been pretty swamped with Uni work of late  - my final year project deadline loomed over me this week, and so whenever I needed some light relief, I whizzed through 'Father! Father! Burning Bright!' It really helped that this book was so dinky for being pocket-sized amongst hefty textbooks and the two packed lunches I had equipped myself with for the day's library session!

Midgley is a schoolteacher, facing the inevitability of his father's impending death and the frustration of him not actually.. well dying.

 I won't say much as this is such a short read, and anything else would be an unnecessary irritation of a spoiler. I will say that Bennett's infamous and expert handle on satire is unapologetic, stark and completely funny. I found myself stifling a small laugh every time I realised how blatantly Bennett calls people out on their prejudices, however harmless and benign.
 
Adapted from the TV film "Intensive Care" (starring Alan Bennett), the story moves swiftly from one scene to the next - and without warning, much like as if you were watching it on television itself.

It's rare that I find a book which will strike me as funny (in that I would actually laugh aloud), with 'Submarine' being the strongest contender (a recommended read!). This has prompted me to read more from Bennett - and possibly re-watch The History Boys. (Exam-time is approaching fast after all!) I've been wanting to read "The Uncommon Reader" for a good while now, though the ever increasing height of my "To Read" pile is warning me otherwise!

Are you an Alan Bennett fan? What are your recommendations?

 
Here is the first of 9 parts to BBC 2's "Intensive Care" via YouTube. (Link active at time of posting).
 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Gregory's Girl Vs. (500) Days of Summer

"I’ll tell you something - and not a lot of people know this. We are clinging to the surface of this planet, while it spins through space at a thousand miles an hour. Held only by the mystery force called ‘Gravity’. A lot of people panic when you tell them that, and they just fall off. Don’t stop dancing or you’ll fall off." 

My go to feel-good film. Everything from Gregory's gawkiness to the grainy 70's camera brings a home grown, comforting quality to the screen.
 
Gregory's Girl is un-film like. It could easily be one of those special edition episodes of Grange Hill, with this week honing in on the unassuming Gregory.
  • Although it's a tale of unrequited love, it's devoid of the usual, protracted teenage angst. Gregory completely and unashamedly indulges in being in love - and he's no reason to believe it's anything but.
  • Stills from the films could easily be used in a 70s live-action comic strip. Cue speech bubbles.
  • Scottish accents.

This was originally going to be a post reviewing Gregory's Girl, and one of the points was that Gregory's character is a fore bearer for the boy in love with the notion of love - best and most recently depicted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer. Thinking about this for a moment, I realised there were more parallels between the two films.

gregory's girl, 500 days of summer, zooey deschanel, joseph gordon levitt
Gregory and Tom
Both are in love with the idea of love. Both project their hopes of happiness on one person and in both cases, it ultimately falls flat. The big difference is that in (500) Days of Summer, Tom allows these hopes to consume him, with everything else in his life paling in comparison. Gregory, on the other hand, is the opposite. Although guilty of the same thing, he's more resilient for it. He's happier for it. Nothing - not even the discouragement from his friends and family - dampens his spirits.
"A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. "That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person. I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life."
 - Joseph Gordon-Levitt
gregory's girl, 500 days of summer, chloe moretz, joseph gordon levitt

The Little Sister
Words of wisdom come from a world-weary, younger sister. The older brother, the character assumed to have the experience if not the answers is the fool in love, the source of much exasperation for the little sibling. Growing up doesn't necessarily mean getting wiser. In fact, you become all the more foolish. And in Gregory's case, there's nothing too wrong with that - again you can actually be happier for it.

  ... & the ever present pessimistic friends
Oh ye of little faith. Always on hand for a sarcastic quip, a stark reality check and light relief which fails to provide the intended pick-me-up our milksop protagonist may sorely need but definitely doesn't want.

gregory's girl, 500 days of summer, matthew gray gubler, joseph gordon levitt

Playlist:

Bay City Rollers: I Only Want To Be With You
The Courteeners: Not Nineteen Forever
Oasis: The Girl In the Dirty Shirt
Bobby Vee: Rubber Ball
Mumm-Ra: She's Got You High
Oasis: She's Electric
Arctic Monkeys: Fluorescent Adolescent
The Searchers: Sweets for my Sweet
The Beach Boys: Help Me Rhonda
The Wombats: Here Comes the Anxiety
The Turtles: Elenore



Saturday, 23 February 2013

I Give It A Year - Film Review

"It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favourite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party."
- Nick Hornby

I give it a year, i give it a year film review, i give it a year rafe spall, rafe spall, rose byrne


Hearing that this film was of the same ilk as Bridget Jones and Love Actually, I was instinctively expecting something very Richard Curtis-esque. Although I wouldn't say it reaches the same comedic heights as those films, it's well worth a watch, with a more than credible cast who deliver the witty script with aplomb.

Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne lead as a newly married couple, wed after only a few months of meeting, at the concern of their nearest and dearest, all of whom are dubious of the union's longevity. Following the trajectory of the crucial first year, ex-girlfriends and suave newcomers threaten to shake the already precarious foundations of the relationship.

Above all others, I love home-grown, British films. Specifically how they celebrate the humour (both the dry wit and sarcasm, coupled with the more slapstick); the idiosyncrasies of behaviour - a scene that hit this on the nail was one which poked fun at the tedious routine of calculating (to the penny) each person's share of the bill at the end of a meal - and all to a backdrop highlighting the best parts of the country, especially the West End.  (Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones all being prime examples.)

I was slightly nervous that 'I Give It A Year' might end up being a parody of itself, slightly overwrought with the clichés of the typical British rom-com, given the hype of it coming from the people who delivered the above films. Despite how much I love them, I think it could be quite easy to follow the same formula of these films, and translate them into a slightly different scenario with only, marginally different characters.

I can't say it was totally different - there were the generic sub-plotlines and archetypes (married characters realising their true love is elsewhere with elsewhere usually being, quite literally, right around the corner; the hapless and ever present, inappropriate best friend of the male protagonist - see Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill; and dubious characters in professional or authority positions (the vicar or priest almost always being a culprit, both in 'I Give It A Year', and Four Weddings and a Funeral).




stephen merchant, rhys ifans, i give it a year, notting hill


In films like these, there aren't any special effects, grand cinematography or overcomplicated storylines to distract audiences away from the writing or acting of the cast. I've been particularly fond of Rafe Spall since watching him in 'Pete Vs. Life' (which I'm really disappointed there's not been a third series of!), though I hope he won't be typecast as the hapless, slightly awkward and gawky "non-typical" male lead, unlucky in love and life (also seen in 'One Day'). I think he's great nonetheless and especially at comedic roles. His off-dialogue murmurings were a brilliant adjunct to the character interactions and made for a really personable and likeable performance.

Rose Byrne didn't come off in quite the same way - though this is probably due to her character being obviously intentioned to be more stern and in stark contrast to Spall's. I felt that we should have wanted to be equally sympathetic to both characters, though Spall's purposely came across as more deserving. Rose's character is frequently shown as snappy, fed up and out of sync with her new husband, whereas Spall seemed a bit more helpless and determined to keep the relationship working.

There are some really funny, laugh out loud moments, and the audience loved cringing in hysterics at the 'crude but could happen' moments, or at the blunt directness of character exchanges (most particularly those from Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng as the exasperated, bitter married couple, serving as a warning for the newlyweds of what lies in store.)

It's been a while since a film like this really caught my eye, as I (probably quite unfairly) hold them up to the same scrutiny as the more stellar Brit-rom-coms. But again, with its solid cast that also includes Stephen Merchant and Olivia Colman and its more than well written script, I came away really pleased that I had taken a chance on it!

I couldn't help but add this gem in! All this talk of Richard Curtis and British rom-coms, it was only inevitable!