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Archive for September 2009

The Thing

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The ThingI already knew The Thing quite well, having screened it for my college film society, as part of a body-horror double bill. But some stimulating retrospective pieces in national papers whetted my appetite, and when I found it was showing at my local multiplex I couldn’t resist. It was the prospect of seeing that masterpiece on an enormous screen, with a presumably thin audience and all the privacy in the world that made it so, frankly, irresistible. One thing failed to disappoint – the film.

To my ambivalent surprise, I arrived to an officially sold-out screening. 10 left out of several hundred seats. This is fine, I thought – quite pleasing to see so great a turn out for a left-field rerun – perhaps a serious crowd of cult fanatics. Maybe we will see more of this sort of thing. Of course, I could no longer expect a comfortable space with aural insulation – but having seen The Thing before, surely I won’t be so tetchy about getting under the skin of the film – becoming immersed in the experience so I don’t miss a thing, so I respond in good tune.

I enter the theatre, having missed the opening shots of that remarkable first scene – a husky in flight from two helicopter-mounted Norwegians, letting rip with assault rifle and grenade. I stood aside and let the action subside before interrupting other virtuous filmgoers. Ah-hah! A perfect seat nestles half way up the stairs, at the middle of a row. Not too bad, I think, as I politely slip past the seated and sink into my chair. Then it begins to sink into me.

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Written by James P. Campbell

16/09/2009 at 00:29

Fish Tank *****

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Fish TankMia (the mesmerizing Katie Jarvis) is a typical 15 year-old girl who lives with her single mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing), little sister Tyler (the extraordinarily authentic Rebecca Griffiths) and their innocuous dog, Tennents. These girls, to borrow from Peter Bradshaw, “have learned from their mother mannerisms of pre-emptive scorn and rage to cover up perennially hurt feelings”. But Mia has dreams, fulfillable desires which afford her an optimism that shines out of this bleak suburban London landscape. She dreams of freeing a beautiful, gaunt mare chained to breeze-block by her owners, two intimidating and obnoxious young men and their more benign brother; of escaping her body, her emotions and her life through modern dance, the compulsion through which she bares her soul; of intimacy, fatherly or sexual, to free deep untapped reserves of passion. Yet all measures to these ends are misdirected, falter or come to nought.

Fish Tank is an extraordinary, touching, melancholic film in which Andrea Arnold manages to execute some of the harder tropes of social-realism with a tone of honest optimism, yet without resorting to a hint of sentimentality or cliché. There is beautifully choreographed photography, playing heavily on stark contrasts (though I would contend that the vast openness of the outdoors, set against often claustrophobic interior, manifests just as threatened and crumbling a beauty as in the life and soul of Mia). The city is never-ending, as we follow over Mia’s shoulder along broken sidewalks, across flyovers, the towers always behind and cars in the foreground. The only real escape from the sprawl comes in the form of a trip to the countryside with mum’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender, whose tremendous performance appears so effortless as to become invisible).

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Written by James P. Campbell

10/09/2009 at 11:59

Adventureland ****

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AdventurelandExpectations can be a real bummer. The way a public accesses film now depends almost entirely on marketing, on names attached, on distribution channel. Those who walk in expecting a repeat of past directorial success will be often be sorely disappointed. And such disappointment is no valid basis for criticism. In the case of the inimitable Adventureland, inappropriate expectations were set up by Greg Mottola’s last film, that Apatow behemoth, Superbad. But it has more in common with the low-highbrow indie comedy of The Squid and the Whale, star Jesse Eisenberg’s last picture (yet without the distance and seriousness to temper occasional dalliance with smarmy pseudo-intellectuality; although thankfully, it keeps on the right side of the line). It has even drawn comparison to Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused, and Before Sunrise, for its intimate and sensitive exploration of the trouble with finding oneself before embarking on a career and life.

In that sense, it called to mind the themes of The Graduate, and with similar indirectness, it penetrates to the heart of the feelings and the half-chance commitments that define this stage of life. And like The Graduate, it deals with loss of virginity, rediscovery of identity and nihilism, but with an up-to-date candor and sense of humour. Yet oddly, it is set half-way between here and there, in 1987’s Pittsburgh.

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The Hurt Locker ****½

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The Hurt LockerThe Hurt Locker is apparently military slang for the contemporary phenomenal equivalent of shell shock (physical trauma associated with repeated aural exposure to explosions), the locker itself being that envelope of time where the force moving through air affords a compressed silence to precede obscene rupture. A fitting title for one of the greatest films set at war – an easy peer to Full Metal Jacket and The Thin Red Line. It describes the experiences of a bomb-disposal unit in Baghdad, approaching the end of their current deployment; its world represents the middle stages of American deployment in Iraq.

As a war film in both form and substance, it has an exclusively masculine superficial appeal, but as a study of masculinity – of war and trauma (of division) – it is of transgender concern. To suggest that it is less interesting for women is both to assign gender and to claim women are insubstantial and superficial – while it may have more appeal to the baser instincts of male audiences (much as the certain chick flicks appeal to those of female audiences) it has substance that goes beyond genre target markets.

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Written by James P. Campbell

05/09/2009 at 18:53