A distinctly British melding of comedy and horror grew from the roots of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and it’s telling that Wright has an executive producer credit on Sightseers, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to his terrifying, schizoid Kill List, which made it to US theatres earlier this year. Sightseers proves similarly unclassifiable, but the black magic horror of Kill List is replaced by a crunching absurdity. Co-writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, a young couple who leave behind Tina’s demanding, cruel but dependent mother and set out on a sightseeing tour around England that quickly becomes a killing spree after Chris reverses over a tourist he witnessed littering. Justifications for the killings range from a rambler’s “smug complacency” to Tina’s sexual jealousy, removing any kind of social agenda from Oram and Lowe’s anarchic, cruelly witty script. Instead they parody usual clichés – Tina is still affected by the loss of her dog, who meets an unfortunate end by knitting needle in flashback – and affectionately mock bullshit social rhetoric. There’s a guilty pleasure in our enjoyment of the escalating brutality of the situation and how the pair’s romantic entanglement evolves through this. Despite their obvious issues, Chris and Tina are genuinely entertaining people to spend time with, and the surreal, morbid flourishes of humour combine with dark flares of blood to make for a generic hybrid that has been deftly melded together. Sightseers is worth making tracks to see. (A-)
Entries in film festivals (154)
“Like being hugged by your favourite grandparent,” I wryly tweeted just after exciting the press screening of Quartet. Imagine that. It’s an undeniably pleasant experience, even as it might come with a slightly musty smell and a worry that if you let go they’ll lose their balance. (Said grandparent must obviously have reached a certain age, and I’m sure your grandmother smells lovely really.) Quartet is, in the nicest way possible, an elderly person’s movie – gentle, undemanding, exceedingly pleasant and just a little bit bland. Every piece of the easy narrative jigsaw puzzle is placed before you within fifteen minutes – Cissy (Pauline Collins) winsomely forgets where she’s going several times, Reggie (Tom Courtenay) withdraws bitterly at Jean’s (Maggie Smith) arrival, and Dr. Cogan (Sheridan Smith) happens to mention that the nursing home is in danger of closing down. Not to mention that this collective of aging musical greats are already rehearsing for their gala concert in honour of Verdi’s birthday. Continue...
Michael C. here on the closing day of the 50th New York Film Festival.
Every once in a while a movie like Leos Carax’s Holy Motors comes along to remind everyone that movies are capable of anything. It is not just that the film eschews formula. It isn’t just a work of originality. Carax wants to pop your brain out and soak it in weapons grade hallucinogens then set you loose in a Paris where nightmare logic is matter-of-fact reality and you can’t get from scene to scene without stumbling through some new looking glass.
The plot is easily summarized. Monsieur Oscar (Denis Levant, amazing) walks out of his expensive home in the morning, waves goodbye to his wife and kids and drives off in the back of stretch limo. In the limo is a theater troupe’s worth of costumes and props and a fully stocked make up mirror. Every time he steps out of the limo he is a different person, whose life he lives for an hour or two.
Craig: It’s all about celebrity skin in Antiviral as characters indulge in, ahem, the pleasures of the flesh in one form or another. This being the first feature from David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, I perhaps expected a plentiful supply of gratuitous bodily harm. Having no idea prior to seeing the film just what it was about – all I knew was that it was partially set in a mysterious clinic for the stars – the film came as a minor revelation: not only because, for a debut feature, the filmmaking was of an uncommonly high calibre, but also because the most interesting Cronenberg film this year wasn’t brought to us by the oldest member of the Cronenberg clan.
David: I always seem to begin these conversations with a caveat: this time, it's that I missed Cosmopolis, though the wild variety of reactions has me eager to get my teeth into it. But in a general sense, I agree on your point: Antiviral certainly has echoes of the David Cronenberg of the 1980s, mixing an obsession with the body and its orifices – even if many of these are false ones created with a needle – with a cool depiction of technology's terrifying possibilities.
Craig: Yes, even if he doesn’t entirely map out his own territory, Cronenberg Jr asserts himself as a director of impeccable style. On the one hand, David’s influence is certainly pronounced, as well it might be, but on the other hand, dare I say it (and I hate to say it), Brandon has made the kind of film I was hoping for from Cronenberg Sr. senior this year.
David: This might just be me and my limited experience of Cronenberg Sr., but Antiviral seems quite crisp and clinical where I recall his father's films as visually darker and emotionally grubbier. Brandon's use of space, particularly, reminded me less of his father's filmography and more of Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty and Todd Haynes' Safe [continue...]
The Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film is particularly exciting this year. We have more contenders than ever (71!) and so many strong films that the Academy's always controversial foreign language branch will undoubtedly piss various contingencies off when they announce the finalist list and then the nominees. They could lessen the size of the outcry each year if only their finalist list were 12 films long. It's so strange that they make it small enough (9 films) that those films which miss the nomination are in the minority and, thus, look particularly snubbed... numerically speaking. I've already raved about the Pinoy movie "Bwakaw", and here are two other worthy candidates for this annual honor. Don't miss them if you get a chance to see them
“Ladies and Gentlemen, people die. That’s all you need to know.” This line, a recurring catchphrase from aging chanteuse Kiki (Justin Bond) in the now departed Kiki & Herb act, used to make me howl with laughter. It was a perfect punchline, soaked as it was in booze and tragicomic matter-of-factness. People do die. Death is a fact of life but we spend so much time denying it that it often feels completely abstract, an imagined fate rather than an eventual one. But as Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), the elderly woman at the heart of Michael Haneke’s new film reminds us:
Imagination and reality have little in common.”
At first Haneke keeps his customary distance. Were it not for early publicity or the disturbing pre-title sequence that shows us a woman's decomposing body surrounded by flowers, we wouldn't even know who the principle characters were during the post-title opening shot, a crowd watching a piano recital. As in the finale of Haneke's best film (Caché) the director doesn't help you decide where to look; it's your job to find the narrative. But one of the strongest directorial impulses in Amour is Haneke's barely perceptible but undeniably tightening focus on the couple. Each scene seems to bring us closer to Anne and Georges (Jean-Louis Trigninant), a happy well-off couple in their eighties who enjoy literature, cultural events, and visits from their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) and Anne's former student (the pianist Alexandre Tharaud who appears to be playing himself). The first close-ups of note, an utterly captivating shot/reverse shot of the couple as Anne all but vanishes from a conversation in progress, is the bomb dropping...