Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Film With Me In It

Written by: Mark Doherty

Directed by: Ian Fitzgibbon

Starring: Dylan Moran, Mark Doherty, Amy Huberman, David O'Doherty

Rating: 8/10

Ian Fitzgibbon's black comedy A Film With Me In It is a dark, funny, grimy and somewhat depressing comedy, with a tone akin to Withnail and I that somehow makes the protagonists genuinely bleak disposition part of the overall charm. The less you know about the plot the better so I won't get into a summary here. But I will say this; your enjoyment of this film will depend on how much you will allow yourself to suspend disbelief. It is a film about coincidence and the lengths to which fate will go to in order to screw you over.

Mark, a struggling actor, lives with his invalid brother Dave and his beautiful girlfriend Sally in a run-down flat on the south-side of Dublin. His best friend Pierce (Dylan Moran) is an alcoholic writer whose comically morose outlook on life is the main comic relief in the film. Mark is behind in his rent, jobless and in trouble with Sally because he is too chicken to ask the gruff landlord to fix the many, many problems in their flat. Things go from bad to worse to downright cruel for Mark as a series of accidents land him in some seriously hot water.

The comedy here lies in the cruel joke that the universe in playing on the hapless Mark. He finds himself in a situation so implausible that there's no way to convince anyone that it is not of his own making. The aesthetic and humour are so pitch black that it can sometimes be difficult to endure but the snappy pacing and the clever dialogue keeps the film consistently entertaining. The chemistry between the leads is wonderful and it's easy to buy into the friendship between the pair of curmudgeonly grumps whose only emission of warmth is towards each other, and only on occasion. They are grumpy, they are sarcastic and you can't imagine why a girl like Sally would ever bother with either of them but they are also oddly likeable and as their situation gets more and more sticky you can't help but sympathise. I'm reminded of the under-rated dark comedies of Danny DeVito, films like The War of the Roses, Death to Smoochy and Our House, all films whose black hearts make for unsettling and guilty laughs, but laughs nonetheless. How much torture can we watch our heroes go through? It's an endurance test alright, but A Film With Me In It is likeable, well-plotted and has a hilariously nasty payoff.

Worth a watch.

Available from 30th September here

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, September 26, 2011

Red White & Blue

Written & Directed by: Simon Rumley

Starring: Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter

Rating: 7/10

Independent U.S. thriller Red White and Blue is a fascinating specimen indeed. As delicate in its portrayal of love as it is explicit in its portrayal of violence, the film begins as a strangely voyeuristic exploitation film, playing like a series of vignettes and ends as an intensely non-judgmental exploration of moral boundaries. Unique and certain to plague your thoughts for a long time after it ends, this is a thoroughly original, though not entirely successful piece of work from director Simon Rumley.

Erica is a dark, damaged young woman who enjoys picking up men in seedy bars, but never sleeps with the same one twice. She keeps to herself, doesn't "do friendship" and is generally a closed book. Nate is an army vet, with links to the CIA who has a history of animal torture and lives in Erica's building. He is as damaged as Erica but with a slightly more vulnerable air. Erica is interested in this mysterious stranger but doesn't want to sleep with him. It must be love. Meanwhile Franki, a rock musician who indulged in an orgy with his bandmates and Erica has received some shocking news that sets up the final, gruesome act.

It's unfair to categorise this as a horror film as there is nothing here designed to scare the audience. It is not a film that keeps you in suspense either. Red White and Blue is very much a human drama, despite it's showy display of violence towards the end. The central couple, Erica and Nate, are two tragic characters and their slow bonding and eventual coming together is the stuff of indie drama, not horror, but there is a looming sense of tragedy as we see flashes of a seriously dark side to Nate, an otherwise extremely likeable character. In fact, he is so likeable that this makes the final half hour even more difficult to watch since you can't help but feel his pain and you may enter some very murky moral ground.

The film is structured in such a way that the focus shifts between characters. We start off with Erica who is played by a perfectly cast Amanda Fuller. Her performance is brave, subtle and so interesting that she goes from unlikeable to desperately sad and vulnerable as the film goes on. The second character we explore is Franki and a huge problem for me watching the film is that I couldn't bring myself to like this character no matter how hard I tried. As with the other characters, he has his dark side and his light side but I just couldn't stand him. Maybe it's my dislike for soul-searching hipster types but not being able to sympathise with him really dampened my enjoyment of the film, particularly as events begin to unfold. If this character had worked better I think the plot as a whole would have felt more effective. By far the best thing about the film is the great Noah Taylor, digging right down into the pits of darkness for this role and giving us a side of him we haven't seen before. A genuinely scary, monstrous romantic lead. The blend of innocence, sweetness and pure psychotic rage ensures that the audiences head is spinning by the end of the film. The final shot of the film is somewhat heartbreaking and in a nice little play on time perception, we get a rather poignant little twist in the tale that reminds us exactly what the film is really about. Two damaged people who, for a fleeting second, found love.

With nothing to go on but the fact that Noah Taylor was in it (pretty safe bet) and a pretty frightening trailer I gave this film a chance and I'm glad I did. While the film definitely has its problems, I was pleasantly surprised to find that beneath its gruesome surface it is a film with a big heart and, in an unconventional way, wears it on its sleeve. The film will not be to everyone's taste but it has a certain resonance that is all too rare in genre films.

The film will be released in the UK on 10th October.

 - Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Friends With Benefits

Written by: Keith Merryman, David A. Newman, Will Gluck

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins

Rating: 4/10

It boggles the mind how two films with strikingly similar concepts and a strikingly similar cast can go on release within six months of each other. February saw the release of No Strings Attached, a rom-com starring Black Swan actress Natalie Portman and Hollywood a-lister Ashton Kutcher about friends who enter into a physical relationship without the emotional pressure of a normal relationship. Neither wants a relationship but enjoy the comfort of each others beds. That is until they start to realise they were made for each other. Now we have Friends With Benefits, starring Black Swan actress Mila Kunis and Hollywood a-lister Justin Timberlake, with exactly the same plot. Perhaps it’s simply an unfortunate coincidence that these two films exist in such close proximity and since I thought No Strings Attached was pretty awful I quite hoped Friends With Benefits would be a bit more likeable.
Dylan (Timberlake) is an LA website developer who is recruited to work for GQ magazine in New York. He is met at the airport by Jamie (Kunis), a beautiful, quirky girl who helps him settle in to the very different world of Manhattan. Tired of frustrating failed relationships the pair enter into a sexually-charged friendship on the basis that they don’t need to get bogged down with the politics of dating. It’s all going well until they start to realise they’re made for each other.

Friends With Benefits starts well. The co-stars are glamorous, likeable and their on-screen chemistry really works. The audience has a great time watching them together and the bawdiness of their sexploits makes for a few giggles. A lot of time is spent making fun of conventional rom-coms, with a fictional film referenced throughout (starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segal) as an example of how manufactured and delusional the world of rom-coms are. This is the film’s way of declaring itself the anti-rom-com. But then what does it go and do? It bloody well becomes the most sappy, conventional rom-com of them all! In the process it also loses all sense of fun and the giddy naughtiness of the first half becomes overtaken by family drama and issues with trust and self-doubt.

There is something infuriatingly smug about a film that pokes so much fun at its own genre but then refuses to think outside of the box defined by generic convention. It’s a bad case of having your cake and eating it too…and even worse, it’s a waste of the breezy charms of its superb co-stars! Unfortunately this starts well but becomes a complete bore by the end, dampened even further by a terribly cheesy ending. If you have a high tolerance for bad romantic comedies, you might enjoy this but if you’re expecting the edgy, sophisticated comedy the first act promises, you will probably be very angry by the time the credits roll. Disappointing!

- Charlene Lydon