Sunday, 24 March 2013

Welcome to the Punch

***
Writer/director Eran Creevy takes a huge leap - from the grungy, micro-budgeted Shifty - to this slick, attractive action flick. 

Detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) remains hot on the heels of the elusive Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) and is given a second chance to take down the master criminal when he is forced to return to London.

There's a strong Brit cast: Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays, David Morrisey, Peter Mullan and Johnny Harris all lend excellent support. The ubiquitous Mark Strong once again proves he can do no wrong. Sadly, the weak link is lead James McAvoy. His dubious, irksome cockney accent doesn't help. Why on earth couldn't he have just been Scottish? (NB: There are a lot of Scottish coppers in the Met and the accent lends itself well to being a) authoritative and b) tough.) And I hate to be short-ist but his diminutive frame (of  5' 7", to be exact) does not make him much of a physical presence amid the requisite macho posturing. He's also offered scant decent lines. 

Which brings me to the script. Creevy has a knack for dialogue and it's displayed brilliantly, as in Shifty, when dealing with the minutiae of a situation. Unfortunately, the director seems to have got too bogged down in plot. The only sparky moments (and there are a few of them) occur when he's not forced to push the action forward. Subsequently, the whole thing descends into cliché. Instead of aping Hollywood action mores I wish Creevy had embraced the Britishness a little more. British cinema often fails when it is consciously aiming for appeal across borders. The success of say, Sexy Beast and The Long Good Friday can be put down to their intrinsic Britishness. Due to budgetary constraints British action cinema is relatively rare. What such films lack in spectacle can be compensated for by characterisation and dialogue. And this would have benefited by more focus on both. McAvoy's character is painfully two-dimensional and for an obvious lover of action cinema Creevy needs to give the words a lot more well, punch.

This is not, by any means, a bad film. As stated above, there are elements to savour. There are a few good laughs too. There's also an inspired set-piece which takes place in a twee grandmother's living room. (One of the rare occasions that Creevy embraces the film's parochial nature.)

The director does achieve some great-looking visuals. London has rarely looked as sexy and he makes the city itself feel like an international player. Working with a pretty modest budget for the genre - £5.5 million - Creevy's achieved impressive production value and you can't help but admire his ambition. So I wish the film well and he's certainly a director to keep an eye on.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Animals

***
My first-time foray into the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival starts with this peculiar flight of fantasy from writer/director Marçal Forés.

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a disaffected 17-year-old living with older, police officer brother, Llorenç (Javiér Beltran). Regularly withdrawing from the world, Pol has a (possibly) imaginary friend to keep him company: a walking, talking teddy bear called Deerhoof. Conflicted by desires he begins romances with his friend Laia (Roser Tapias) and also new classmate Ikari (Augustus Prew) who is prone to self-harming. A local girl goes missing and this creates a sinister mood in and around the school.

It’s a bizarre film, often as ‘funny ha-ha’ as ‘funny peculiar’ but without any uncomfortable tonal shifts. It seamlessly switches from the silly to the downright nasty and the director displays a talent for both. The film is set against a beautiful backdrop of Barcelona’s rural surroundings, and beautifully shot by Eduard Grau (Buried, A Single Man) who raises the game of this modestly-budgeted feature.

Deerhoof speaks in English. (And that’s fine - he’s a talking teddy bear. If he spoke Urdu it wouldn’t exactly affect the realism.) The majority of the cast speak Catalan but there are a handful of British actors (including Martin Freeman) and when they are in a scene everyone speaks in English. Very odd and incredibly jarring. Sadly, as soon as this occurred it brought me out of the film.

It’s a little ragged in terms of narrative. The script could have done with some polish. There are times when, logistically, the action is a little confused. So this debut does feel like a first film. But hey, you have to start somewhere and what it lacks in script it makes up for in visuals and mood. Forés has conjured a very haunting atmosphere and shown real imaginative flair. The central conceit of Deerhoof is a big, bold idea and am a little surprised he managed to get funding. The director really embraces the magical realism and makes these scenes work. He also displays an anarchic streak, which is fun to watch. In the Q&A that followed, the director proved to be very charming and self-effacing, and I look forward to seeing him grow as a film-maker.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Song For Marion

****
Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams first grabbed my attention with the excellent, and blisteringly nasty, London to Brighton (2006). It’s almost inconceivable that he’s made something as sweet as this. But the director is notable for the contrasting genres he embraces.

Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is terminally ill and nursed by her loyal but curmudgeonly husband Arthur (Terence Stamp). Marion refuses to stop attending the pensioner’s choir at her local community centre led by Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) - much to Arthur’s chagrin. The choir, dubbed “The OAP’Z” enter a singing competition performing hits as unlikely as Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. Arthur is drawn unwillingly into the proceedings, and inspired to heal the relationship with his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston).

It would take a cold heart to go unmoved by this. It’s as much weepie as it is feelgood – this softy reviewer shed more than a few manly tears - but amidst the pathos it has plenty of big belly laughs. Surely it’s impossible not to be amused by a bunch of pensioners performing Salt-n-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex. (I should add the arrangements of all these tunes are really quite inspired.) I laughed along with them all in a joyously life-affirming fashion.

In terms of cinema receipts, this will certainly help the ever-strengthening grey pound but it’s certainly not just a film for oldies. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. It has a gentle charm with an ever-present realism. The assured direction and savvy script make it satisfyingly engaging and the leads are eminently watchable. Vanessa Redgrave is wonderful in the role – twinkling and, ironically, so alive – as this woman facing death. Terence Stamp reveals a tenderness I’m unfamiliar with (and he sings too). The two actors make a believable, and very touching, couple of many years. And former Bond Girl Arterton is [in the understatement of the year] rather easy on the eye.

It was the perfect film to see with my mum on this Mothering Weekend. (Happy Mothering Sunday, Mum.) Go and see it. It’ll make your heart sing.
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