Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Cry of the Owl

Director: Jamie Thraves
Screenplay: Jamie Thraves
Based on the Novel by: Patricia Highsmith
Producers: Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Malte Grunert, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny, Sytze Van Der Laan
Starring: Paddy Considine, Julia Stiles, Gord Rand, James Gilbert, Caroline Dhavernas
Year: 2009
Country: UK/Canada/Germany/France
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 100 min

I had my doubts about this one, the warning signs from the shoddy Attack on Leningrad were all there – a well known and respectable cast yet no nationwide cinema release and little word of mouth. I thought I'd give this one a chance though as I'm a big Paddy Considine fan and I've always had a lot of time for Julia Stiles, despite a few 'fluffy' roles here and there (Save the Last Dance is not my sort of thing). After giving the film a spin I can see why it didn't have a massive release, it's quite weak in places (I'll go into that later) but overall it's an interesting and diverting film that deserves a little more attention than it's currently getting.

Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, The Cry of the Owl centres around Robert (Paddy Considine), a peculiar man in the process of getting divorced, who spends his nights secretly watching Jenny (Julia Stiles), a stranger to him who he observes living out a happy domestic life. When Jenny catches him in the act however, rather than ringing the police, she listens to his story and lets him into her life. From here on in, things take a turn for the worse and Robert is dragged through a nightmarish string of events that threaten to bring his own questioned sanity to breaking point.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, the film is far from perfect, but rather than lay into it straight away I should bring up what I liked about it. The main factor that kept me interested was the story itself. It's very intriguing and has a Kafkaesque structure to it which makes it quite unsettling in places. I really felt for the protagonist, while at the same time wasn't sure quite how harmless he was, which kept me hooked through most of the running time. That said, when a large twist takes the film in a different direction towards the end it did start to get a little silly, mainly because the 'villains' that become apparent didn't have enough motivation for their actions. The final moments almost made up for this though, ending the film on a bleak and sombre tone which helped it make more of a lasting impression on me.

Unfortunately other aspects of the film are harder to recommend. Considine, an actor who I have a lot of respect for after performances as strong as that in Dead Man's Shoes, is quite disappointing here. He's playing an American and pulls off an accent that sounds authentic, but seems to nullify his delivery to a degree. He's not bad, he's just a bit flat in a role that should have been more interesting. The same can be said for much of the film, which feels quite flat a lot of the time. I think a big reason for this is the dialogue. The script is fairly tight in terms of plotting, but whenever anyone speaks it just comes out stilted and unconvincing. Scenes between Robert and his office buddy in particular are cringe-worthy and totally unnatural. It's all very blunt too, with a lot of the lines spelling things out that would be better off lying under the surface.

These are big stumbling blocks in what could have been a very good film. Director Jamie Thraves has only got one other feature under his belt, so maybe it can be put down to experience, but he's got a handful of music videos in his portfolio, including the excellent 'Just' video for Radiohead, so I'm surprised the film wasn't better than it is. As I said in my opening paragraph though, this is a film that is worth watching, it's just got some crucial flaws that unfortunately have kept it from getting greater exposure.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Séraphine Review at Row Three

I've reviewed the sublime biopic Séraphine over at Row Three:

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Friday, 5 March 2010

Oscar Roundup

Well, its the end of the awards season and as usual the big grandaddy of them all will bring the backslapping to an end on Sunday night (or early Monday morning for people like me over in the UK). The Academy Awards or The Oscars, whatever you want to call them, don't always go to the 'right' winners and the ceremony is generally an overlong, cringeworthy affair, but for some reason it draws me in year after year. I guess it helps that I usually run a small Oscar pool with some friends, but there's also something compulsively entertaining about watching so many big names in the business out together fighting for supremacy through s**t-eating grins.

This week I've been trying to catch up on a couple of the titles up for Best Picture (ten this year!), so I thought I'd put together some brief reviews of them as well as link to older reviews of the rest to remind you what I thought of the contenders.

I saw this for a second time recently and still enjoyed it, but it's not without it's flaws. The first twenty minutes in particular stood out as being a bit ropey on repeated viewing. Click here to see what I thought originally.

The Blind Side
This isn't out in the UK yet, although it doesn't look like something I'd rush out to see to be honest.

District 9
Original, exciting and impressively well made for a directorial debut. It had some inconsistencies, but overall worked very well. Click here to see my full review.

An Education
I've not seen this I'm afraid, decided to rewatch Avatar instead – criminal I know, but I wanted to catch it one more time on the big screen.

The Hurt Locker
Finally caught it on Blu Ray this week. This and Avatar are likely to be bringing home the most shiny statuettes on Sunday and I do think this is the stronger of the two films, but I wouldn't say it's my absolute favourite of the year. The Hurt Locker at it's core is an experiment in on-screen tension. The whole film is pretty much scene after scene of edge-of-your-seat adrenaline rushes and it certainly succeeded in gouging some holes in my chair arms, but it also had a few minor weaknesses. I liked the fact that the film didn't try to bulk out this account of soldiers doing their job with any grand overarching narrative or sappy sentimental moments, it just stuck to it's guns so to speak, showing how hard the job of a bomb disposal unit actually is. However, there were moments that did get a little too unrealistically filmic and you could see some events happening a mile off. The lead character is a little too maverick for his own good too, making many of his actions seem more ridiculous than daring. I imagine there are people in the army who might think and act this way, but his disregard for his own safety and that of his team mates almost got comedic at times. Problems with it's 'realism' aside, this is still a powerful and relentlessly exciting film that makes for a peculiar Oscar favourite, but a deserved one.

Inglourious Basterds
This was the other film I experienced in high definition this week after missing it at the cinema. Inglourious Basterds is another odd choice for the Oscars, but coming from Tarantino it was always going to get some kudos coming it's way. It's a strange, finely crafted and very original film that I didn't know what to make of at times, but after watching it so many scenes stuck in my mind that it keeps rising in stature for me as the days go on. It's definitely a film I'm keen on watching again soon. Most of the cast are very strong, especially Christoph Waltz who deserves all the plaudits he's been raking in over the last few months (he's bound to take home the Oscar too, it's one of the 'sure things' this year). Every scene he is in is elevated by his presence, dominating the screen with a charismatic ferocity and a perfect understanding of the peculiarly toned humour apparent in the script. Speaking of which, Inglourious Basterds is not a film with the memorably witty lines of Pulp Fiction, but it still holds it's own in the dialogue stakes with several extremely lengthy scenes of people just talking standing out as some of the most memorable in the film. In fact I felt let down by the Basterds themselves, expecting more of an emphasis on over-the-top Nazi butchering, whereas most of the joys of the film came from the other characters' simple interactions. I didn't always go for Brad Pitt either, he has some enjoyable moments (the Italian scene stands out), but he lays on the spoof a little too much at times and the less said about Eli Roth the better. The final fiery extravaganza at the film's climax was impressive though. All in all it's very entertaining despite it's length and feels fresh despite it's clear referencing to genres of the past. Tarantino may be a person I'd like to slap around the face and his work gets increasingly more self-indulgent, but he still makes some really good movies.

Not got round to watching this yet. 

A Serious Man
I actually watched this on it's opening weekend, but never got round to reviewing it. I'm a really big Coen brothers fan and this felt very much like a quintessential addition to their canon. It charts the cataclysmic levels of bad luck laid upon it's Jewish protagonist climaxing to an abrupt but curiously satisfying finale. It's strength, as with most of the Coens' work, is in it's memorably quirky characters and it's irreverent humour. Sy Ableman (played by Fred Melamed) in particular had me in stitches every time he was on screen. It's a film where religion plays a big part, but rather than go into great depths on the subject, it uses it as a platform for further eccentricities and our 'hero' Larry finds little solace in the arms of his faith. It reminded me a lot of Barton Fink in it's almost surreal tone and crescendo-like narrative where things just get worse and worse for the lead character rather than following the classic arc of most story structures. It's a great film and followers of my blog will know of my love for it due to it's high placing in my top ten list for last year.

Not Pixar's best and the first half outshone the second a little too much for me, but Up is still an enjoyable and heart-warming experience. Check out my review here.

Up In The Air
I liked Up In The Air a lot more than I expected. It's an intelligent, funny and occasionally moving film with some great performances and a really sharp script. My review can be found here.