Tuesday, March 30, 2010

House of the Devil

Written & Directed by: Ti West

Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov

Rating: 9/10

There has been a LOT of hype about The House of the Devil from the States in the past few months and after having watched the trailer my curiosity was acutely aroused. I can now happily say it did not disappoint me.

The set-up is the most cliched of horror set-ups, babysitter stuck in a scary house in the middle of nowhere and we pretty much know that the owners are Satanists looking for a victim for their lunar eclipse sacrifice. Not only is the film set in the 1980's but it goes to great pains to recreate the vibe of an 80's straight to video horror movie. This is one of the most impressive things about the film. I know it isn't necessarily something that should decide whether or not you like a movie but they do such a great job here that it dredges up all kinds of fear that I had forgotten I had since I was a child watching scary films when I wasn't supposed to be. I blame this for my remarkably uncool behaviour when watching this film. Hiding behind cushions, making conversation during tense scenes in order to distract myself and even, and I'm not joking, hiding under my own t-shirt.

What's wonderful about this film is that after watching a slew of self-referential horror films, you know that modern horror films know exactly how to play with conventions and scare the crap out of you by what I like to call "cheating" but others might call "being creative". The House of the Devil creates tension by always keeping the audience guessing that they might "cheat". They rarely do but my lack of trust in them led to every single scene from about the first half hour onwards being a complete and utter headwrecker. I must applaud the filmmakers for the lack of action in this film. Not much happens at all until the last ten minutes but the sense of dread is almost intolerable throughout. Ti West's script and his direction plays with the audiences heads, always keeping them thinking that a huge fright is just around the corner, even though it rarely is. Some have said it's a dull movie and nothing happens, I forgive them for that lapse in judgement because what's thrilling about the film is not the action thats taking place, its the sheer genius and remarkable originality that's going on behind the camera that makes this brilliant!

This is a truly terrifying experience that will most likely only work the first time you watch it, but repeated viewing is recommended for the script's brazen use of convention and the production design's attention to detail. So postmodern its not postmodern at all...or something to that effect.


- Charlene Lydon

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ben Hollingsworth Interview

Interview with Ben Hollingsworth about his forthcoming film The Joneses:

Consumerism is the dominant theme in The Joneses. It seems that so-called stealth advertising is on the rise. Is this frightening to you?
I don’t find it “frightening” as much as I think it’s important that we be aware of it. Stealth marketing is on the rise and it’s probably in more places than we realise. The more aware of it the general public are that its happening and how it’s happening to them the more it becomes less scary and more transparent and more easy to recognise what it is.
Does the current wave of economic woes make The Joneses more resonant to audiences?
I think the film is a bit of a zeitgeist of what’s going on in our society. It’s a script that’s been around for a number of years and actually had trouble getting financing until the market collapsed and all of a sudden there was money to make this film about it all and it finally got the greenlight to get made. So yeah, I think its very current and very relevant.
This film could be seen as a sort of crossover film for you from TV into cinema. Did you learn a lot from the cast of seasoned pros you worked with on The Joneses?
Absolutely. Both Demi Moore and David Duchovny are people who have been in this business a very long time and in order to have longevity in this crazy world of entertainment you have to be skilled and you have to be very professional and I learned these things from having worked with both of them. In particular, David really took me under his wing and we would talk a lot about acting and a bunch of different things. He’s a really intellectual guy. He’s got a great education and always has his nose in a book of some kind and always has something interesting to say. So we shared a lot of thoughts about acting because I went to an acting conservatory in Canada called the National Theatre School so I’m interested in a lot of theories about acting. I’m a really big fan of Californication and its one of the best shows on TV. I was watching it in my trailer in between scenes with David so I got to watch him on screen and then I got to watch how he works in person so a lot of my acting style today I can attribute to Duchovny.

Was it challenging working on such a comedic film? Or are you a natural comic?
I don’t know that I’m a natural comic. I feel a challenge in it but I think the comedy is in the story and it’s in the script and in the situation the character is in. But I definitely learned a lot timing-wise from David. It’s a tough muscle to have, dramatic comedy, because it’s a hard to know when to go for the laugh and it’s a difficult transition to take someone from a laugh then to a heartfelt moment but for me it’s my favourite genre. You laugh a bit, you cry a bit, you go home happy.

I heard you had some work visa issues that almost meant you couldn’t be in the movie at all?
Just about! I had issues about getting my visa in time because I’m Canadian and the film is American so I actually had to go to the Fed Ex station right next to the airport on my way out. I had the towncar drop me off there to pick up my visa on the way, got on a flight and three, four hours later I was doing a read-through with David Duchovny and Demi Moore. It happened very quickly and there’s not a lot of time to spare. I had some very talented guys working on my side otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do the movie...some really great lawyers.

Your character, Mick, is the emotional core of the film. Is that a lot of weight to carry?
Yeah, I think it’s a big weight to carry because you’re the moral standpoint and that’s the place that the audience relates to so the audience really needs to be able to connect to the character in order to relate to him. I think the concerns that Mick has and the struggles and conflicts that he plays with are something that a lot of people would feel in a situation like that. He sees through the superficiality of the materialistic things that surround him in his world. He’s almost drowning in all these gifts and all these toys that his family is given because there’s nothing real in it all. I think he’s striving for a real connection or something that’s not a 50 inch plasma screen TV but beyond what that can bring you, which is a real true-life relationship.

Both The Joneses and your TV series The Beautiful Life deal fundamentally with how easily the veneer of perfection can be peeled away. Is this something that interests you particularly, or is it merely co-incidence?
Great observation! I think you’re absolutely right. The human condition is what interests me and that is the layers of perfection being stripped away and seeing that to every beautiful thing there’s an ugly side and without that it not real, not human. And that’s what draws me to any character is the imperfection and it’s the things that are not quite perfect that allow you to get into the character and find depth and there really isn’t such thing as a perfect person because they don’t exist. Whenever I see a character that has a bit of a struggle and they appear to be perfect but there’s something about them that makes you think they don’t really have it all, that really attracts me to a character.

The Beautiful Life was tragically cut short after only two episodes. That must have been a devastating blow for you?
Absolutely! You become really close with the people you work with and when you jump in on a project you go full out. You really dedicate yourself. I moved myself to New York for it, so did all of my castmates. That’s a transition in itself and the lifestyle that comes with that. It was very, very sudden the way it happened. We were filming the seventh episode in the middle of a scene, in the middle of the day and they came in and said we had an hour to get out of the studio. It was very, very, very quick. That’s the entertainment business. That’s just how it functions, how it works. Often it has nothing to do with a show’s quality; it has to do with the show’s public response. That’s why I think I like film. Because it allow you to fully go through a story and craft your performance to fit it. You know where the character begins and ends. You know where it begins, where the conflict is, where it resolves and where it ends. As an actor that gives you more power to craft your performance.

So you plan to stick with cinema for a while?
Yeah, I would love to! There are some great television projects out there but I pride myself in my ability to switch my roles and change them so they don’t seem the same and they’re very distinct from each other. I love that about film. You get to step into someone else’s shoes for a few months then put your own shoes back on, then step into someone else’s shoes again for a few months and that’s great because it keeps that fresh feeling instead of having to play the same character year in, year out.
So, what’s next for you?
I just had a great meeting with a director yesterday about a film that Timbaland is producing. It’s in the works with some great cast members attached. There’s a couple of things but we’re being very selective because we want to follow The Joneses up with something equally as intriguing, current and challenging and not just jump into whatever comes up. I’ve had a couple of great meetings with directors and it’s all just about finding the right project and the right role.

I saw a very excited Tweet from you about St. Patrick’s Day. Did you have a wild one?
Oh yeah! Well, I’m three parts Irish. My mom’s maiden name is Hickey and my father’s name is McPhee so there’s a lot of Irish in me. A lot of Irish heritage in Canada, actually. I’m from a town called Peterborough, Ontario and it’s got a really healthy Irish population.

- Charlene Lydon 26/3/10

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dear John

Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom

Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins.

Rating: 1/10

This is advertised as a love story but is in actual fact a stupid, soulless piece of rubbish that never gives any insight whatsoever into the complicated human heart. Over the course of two weeks a young, rich, free spirit Savannah (Seyfried) and a hunky, emotionally troubled G.I., John (Tatum), fall madly, deeply in love. However, he must go back off to war and they can only communicate through love letters. That is the premise for the whole film. A relationship between an angry, mean man and a stupid, complacent woman that is based on a mere two weeks of giggling and kissing in the rain. It isn’t much to invest in and so it’s difficult to care when it all goes predictably awry.

That is, until the sad, “poignant” ending that we know is sad because of the swelling music and longing looks between the leads. The problem is, it’s impossible to get sucked into this lifeless, emotionally manipulative tale of staunch patriotism and airy fairy idiot girls.

Channing Tatum is, as always, a massive hulking meathead with a sensitive soul. He’s effective I suppose but his character is so thinly drawn that it’s difficult to even appreciate his performance. His love interest, Amanda Seyfried, sparkles as always and is thoroughly charming but again, her character is so remarkably dim that it is difficult to empathise with her. Richard Jenkins does well in his role as Tatum’s autistic father. His character is by far the most interesting in the film but is unfortunately sidelined to make room for the flimsy love story.

If you’re a teenager who writes Channing Tatum’s name in little love hearts all over your copies, you’re going to love Dear John. Otherwise, you’ll most likely find it to be one of the most offensively stupid films ever made. The knowledge that it comes from the writer of the notoriously tearjerking The Notebook conjures an image of a smug yuppie sitting in a plush L.A. office laughing at how easy it is to make people cry. However, I can’t imagine this schtick working the tear ducts of the masses.

Humourless, brainless and a complete waste of time; this is a chore to watch and has an extremely unsatisfying ending. For your own good, give this one a miss.

The Blind Side

Written & Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw

Rating: 7/10

The words “Hell must have frozen over” have never been uttered as often as it has this awards season. Miss Congeniality won a Best Actress Oscar. We all scoffed and giggled and worried that something terribly wrong had happened in the world. However, her winning of a Razzie Award the night before the Oscars gave the universe some much-needed balance again. All is right with the elements. So the big question is, was the award deserved? Well, personally, I’d still have given it to Helen Mirren but personal taste aside, I’m happy enough to concede that Miss Armed & Fabulous was justly rewarded.

The Blind Side is a very good film. Perhaps not the most profound piece of cinema but it is a fascinating true story, well-told. It tells the story of Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager who is so gigantic that a football coach from a posh school is falling all over himself to get him in. When he gets there, needless to say he has trouble fitting in. However, he soon falls in with privileged family, the Tuohy’s who take him into their home and slowly build up a relationship with him. Bullock’s portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy is the single most important part of the film and happily it worked well, textured and always interesting. This is not a complicated woman. She is a strong-willed, kind woman who has everything she could ever want but has an appreciation for how lucky she is.

The Blind Side has some sickeningly cheesy moments and it is not always elegant in its storytelling. This is just the film it appears to be from the trailer. It is overwhelmingly cheerful and optimistic which can be annoying at times, even to those of us who don’t consider themselves entirely cynical. However, as it progresses, it becomes clear that there is slightly more going on than rich white people saving poor black kids. The final act of the film calls into question the morality behind such an endeavour. Is there such thing as a truly selfless act? Perhaps we are not even aware why we do things and maybe there are somewhat shadier motives behind them.

This questioning of the film’s heroes immediately allows the audience to feel better about the characters, who are rather clichéd “good Christian southern Republicans”. The writer doesn’t allow the characters to remain atop their pedestal for too long. He allows them room to doubt themselves.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and entertaining film and it is an inspiring true story that I found myself liking far more than I had predicted. And yes, it’s better than All About Steve.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Interview Feature on Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his new film Micmacs

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a rarity; a foreign-language filmmaker who has time and time again managed to make films which are successful in the mainstream international market. Always audience pleasers, his films tread the line between arthouse and Hollywood. His quirky, instantly-recognisable style is warm, inviting and usually full of heart. His blissfully upbeat colour palette and his obvious love for his characters usually make for thoroughly enjoyable films. He is well known for his long-standing collaborations with cast and crew members, most notably he made a superstar of Audrey Tautou, with whom he has worked on two films and most recently an ad for Chanel. To date he has made six feature films, all of which have been very different yet most definitely consistent with his trademark visual style.

His latest film, Micmacs, boasts the warmth and romance of Amelie, the mean streak of Delicatessen and a new element which hasn't surfaced in his work before: a political agenda. The film begins with our hero Bazil as a child finding out his father has been killed in action as a soldier. He sees a logo for a weapons manufacturer which stays with him as he grows up in a miserably lonely existence. Later in his life he works in a video shop and is accidentally shot in the head in a freak accident. He survives but is told that the bullet is still in his brain and may kill him at any moment. When he finds the bullet shell he sees the logo of another weapons manufacturer. His interest is sparked when he visits the offices of these companies which happen to be directly across the road from each other. With nothing to lose, Bazil and his motley crew of friends who live together in a junkyard team up to pit the companies against each other and ultimately destroy them both through an outrageously complex but very fun plot. The cast is led by a fantastic comic turn by French comedy superstar Dany Boon, who won the role after the original actor, Jamel Debbouze dropped out. It is difficult to imagine that this part wasn't written specifically for Boon's particular brand of comedy as he embodies the physicality of the role so completely.

When Totally Dublin caught up with Jean-Pierre Jeunet last week we asked him where this strange blend of characters and themes had come from. "I wanted for a long time to work on three different aspects that I like: revenge, the weapons industry and the idea of a group of strange, crazy but smart people living together. I wanted to do something about the weapons industry for a long time. I have actually visited a weapons plant and it was kind of shocking to hear the guy talking about the weapons as if he was talking about chocolate!" Although Micmacs never gets bogged down with weighty political agendas, it certainly makes a point about how ludicrously acceptable it is to allow guns to infiltrate our world. By focussing on the simple and innocent motivations of the characters, Jeunet's films creates a sharp contrast between the world of the weapons executives and the "micmacs" who only seek to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and to indulge in the odd bit of mischief.

One of the most impressive aspects of Micmacs is its beautiful cinematography. In keeping with Jeunet's famous visual style, this film has a vivid colour scheme and bustling art direction. The heightened reality of the world he creates allows the viewer to suspend disbelief when the story goes completely wild. Jeunet has developed a unique style in his work which is recognisable to audiences. He also has the ability to merge simple human stories with complex high concept scenarios. He discussed the style of Micmacs and how it is affected by his background in animation "Actually, Micmacs is kind of a cartoon! I do not show things as they are. To me it is not interesting to show reality as it is. It is the same regarding artists. I am more interested with artists who have something to say, who have their own vision of the world. Because if it is just to see reality, I prefer watching a documentary." With this comment in mind it is interesting to cast an eye back to his earlier films, all of which are set within a world that is not quite our own, a stylised version of the reality in which these stories take place. Whether it's the filthy mayhem of Delicatessen or the golden glow of Amelie's Paris or the lush, romantic landscape of A Very Long Engagement, it is very clear that Jeunet has little interest in kitchen sink drama, but rather the world as it is seen by his array of hyper-real characters.

With Micmacs he takes this one step further by becoming self-referential. Throughout the film, there are scattered shots of huge billboards carrying posters for Micmacs, and, even more cunningly, each poster depicts an image from the scene in which it features. When asked about his unusual placement of Micmacs movie posters at certain points within the film itself, he explained that he did it simply "for fun! I allowed myself to do everything in that movie. There were no limits". Jarring, but charmingly idiosyncratic, this device is typical of Jeunet's wicked sense of fun and the overall tone of cinematic reference throughout.

His international success has afforded him a world of opportunity but he has notably turned his back on Hollywood, only having been seduced by it once when he was asked to direct Alien Resurrection. However, this was not generally considered a commercial or artistic triumph and since then he has remained in France, making the films he wants to make, in the way he wants to make them. Despite having considered directing a Harry Potter film and the big-screen adaptation of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, he understands where his comfort zone is and the benefits of remaining true to himself and sticking to his territory. "Investors know my movies will be made in France but be seen abroad as well. So it is obviously easier to get financing. But this is why I go abroad as well to do the promotion of my movies. It is nice to know we are not doing films only for France." Indeed, the success both critically and financially of his smash-hit Amelie was unprecedented and it has probably done more for the mass-consumption of foreign-language films than any other. Which is, perhaps, why he claims of all his characters, Amelie Poulain is his favourite. "It was something personal and it became a worldwide success. Amelie is me. It was the result of 25 years of notes and ideas so there is necessarily a lot of me in that movie." I don't know many other directors who would compare themselves to an imaginative pixie-like young woman in her twenties but there you have it!

A true auteur, he writes and directs his own films with the exception Alien Resurrection which was written by television's most ingenious writer Joss Whedon. When asked what it was like to direct another writer's work, he said: "Peaceful. Obviously I was less invested because I was only responsible for the technical part. When you get criticism it is more about the story, so there was no risk at all. When the movie is out, if you get criticism about the story you can even agree with it because it was not you who wrote it". As a filmmaker with genuine originality, it tickles one's curiousity to find out what other filmmakers impress him. "I am interested in film directors who have something to say, like Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, Kubrick. I like those who have a proper style, and their own look on the world."

With his latest release, Jeunet further reinforces his presence in the world of the great directors. Admirably evolving from his earlier work, yet holding on to the charm that he became famous for, this ability has allowed Jean-Pierre Jeunet to earn and keep his household name status for a decade now.

Words: Tatiana Ogier and Charlene Lydon

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Whip It!

"I can grow the balls!"

Written by: Shauna Cross

Directed by: Drew Barrymore

Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore

Rating: 9/10

The teen movie is a genre that has always fascinated me with its ability to give profound insight into what it means to be yourself in a time where you're not quite sure what that means and also teen films can act as s a great slice of life from the time and place it is set as it is usually immersed in the pop culture of the time. Look at 80’s teen movies, they’re like time capsules. Whip It!, for me was a brilliant, brilliant teen movie. It features a complicated heroine, Bliss, who despite often making really bad decisions, slowly tries to find out who she is. It also features a wide variety of grown-ups with equally complicated issues. Bliss’s mom, who is a former beauty queen and still incredibly beautiful but works as a postman in the most unflattering uniform ever invented makes for a very sympathetic villain. Kristen Wiig plays Maggie Mayhem, a single mom roller girl who is struggling (quite successfully) not to lose sight of herself in the madness of being a mother.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea about Whip It! It’s not a serious, whingy, moany, emo film, it is the best fun I’ve had in the cinema in ages. Roller derby! Who would’ve thought it could be so cool. Hot girls with silly hair, red lips, short skirts and fishnets. I’m mad up for that!

OK, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Whip It! is a big girlfest right? Well, technically it is. But I'm one hundred percent sure that if I were a man I'd be just as down with this movie as I am now. Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, it's easy to see what attracted her to the script. In some ways it is as full of clichés as any other teen movie but it tends to set up these clichés in order to smash them! Ellen Page, is infinitely more likeable here than usual because the script gives her more to work with than just quippy one-liners. Bliss is a fully fleshed out, complicated character and Page plays her perfectly. The supporting cast are also amazing with Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig and Barrymore herself bringing a touch of hilarity and spunk to proceedings. Another thing to admire is the lack of girliness on the roller derby track. The girls are rough, there's plenty of blood and bruises and the stunts are great! Like all good sports movies, the competition sequences were shot with a sense of sweaty mayhem that keeps the audience feeling exhuberant. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I wanna be Drew Barrymore when I grow up!
Cynics may call this film predictable and formulaic but you can't deny it has spark and spunk in spades! The cast are top-notch, the skating sequences are exciting and the script is both intelligent and hilarious. Unless you're dead against this type of movie, you'll have a blast!

- Charlene Lydon 7/3/10