Archive for August, 2012

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Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

August 31, 2012

Berberian Sound Studio is an unusual thriller with a very striking atmosphere. Set amidst the production of a 1970s Italian horror production, it is definitely informed stylistically by giallo films, but also bears strong resemblances to David Lynch, early Roman Polanski and certain efforts from Ingmar Bergman that hinged on horror and the psychological. Crucially, however, its allusions to other cinematic trappings do not create a derivative impression; Peter Strickland’s confounding sophomore effort has a unique feel all of its own.

The loose narrative concerns Gilderoy, deftly played by Toby Jones, a British sound technician arriving at a studio in Italy for a new job. The filmmakers having failed to inform him of what kind of film he’d be working on, Gilderoy struggles to cope with his tasks thanks to pressures from his manipulative and demanding bosses, the language barrier, and his unease regarding the production’s grisly footage that he must watch over and over again. Crucially, despite the hallucinatory giallo influences in some of Berberian’s visuals, no footage from the film being made is ever witnessed. As the title suggests, sound is vital here, specifically the relationship between sound and image. So much of the film focuses on the juxtaposition between the implied terror of the unseen images and the source of their accompanying sound; the smashing and cutting of fruits and vegetables may never have been quite so discomforting a spectacle. Sound here is crucial in creating the mood of a film and sustaining the basic message of images, but Strickland toys with this relationship to haunting effect. An actress screams, but the viewer is deprived of the sound in an otherwise soundscape-heavy feature, while elsewhere audio content from one scene bleeds into the next; sequences merge together just as Gilderoy’s paranoid nightmare becomes a confusing blend of what he actually sees and what he dreams…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

August 29, 2012

In a central scene of Magic Mike, Channing Tatum’s protagonist converses with a bank officer, wanting to be granted a small business loan. Mike not only strip-dances at a club called Xquisite but also co-owns the place and balances its books, and additionally manages two construction businesses. Now aged thirty, his dream is to start his own custom furniture company, and he has been waiting for the banks to offer competitive loans that he can use to get started. With all his operations dealing exclusively in cash, Mike finds his credit ratings undesirable to get his dream started.

The scene intriguingly begins with the female bank officer curiously jovial and excited in a nervous way, a demeanour that diminishes into uneasiness once Mike reveals his briefcase of saved-up cash and makes it clear that he really is there for a loan application. There is a suggestion that the officer perhaps recognises Mike from his Xquisite job, and possibly thought he had been hired to appear in her office by co-workers. Once the realisation of his real intentions hits, the employee is unable to respond to Mike’s hopeful discussions about his plans without a visible sense of unease; she finds it hard to find his ambitions plausible and to take him entirely seriously. Though the loan application is rejected due to Mike’s credit rating, the bank officer – with no intention to offend – suggests to him that they have programs for people in his situation who may be “in distress”. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Programme Notes: The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)

August 29, 2012

I was recently contacted to write some programme notes for Glasgow Film Theatre, for their screenings of Bart Layton’s The Imposter. Circumstance meant I was unfortunately a little too late to reply to their offer before someone else took up the job, but I decided to produce some programme notes for the film regardless, just for the sake of practice. This is what I came up with.

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Please note that this article contains spoilers.

Over three years after a child’s 1994 disappearance in San Antonio, Texas, a seemingly traumatised young man found in a phone booth in Spain claimed to be the missing boy. Nicholas Barclay, a blue-eyed, blonde thirteen year old American now had brown eyes, dark hair dyed blonde, an inescapable French accent, less pale skin, and looked much older than sixteen. When circumstances led authorities to believe him after an ambiguously articulated tale, the Barclay family was contacted and Nicholas’ sister travelled to Spain to meet him. Claiming to have escaped from a child prostitution ring where he was tortured, this Nicholas was an imposter, but somehow got by on a series of lies with relatively little question. Sister Carey was convinced this really was Nicholas, changed after abuse that supposedly included physical alterations and punishment upon any speaking of his native tongue, and after arriving in Texas, the imposter was also accepted by Nicholas Barclay’s mother and most of his immediate family. Upon his eventual reveal as a fraud, the press at the time nicknamed the man as “The Chameleon”, and Bart Layton’s documentary The Imposter depicts the stranger than fiction tale in an enthralling fashion that doesn’t just rely on the key events of its baffling true story for potency. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012)

August 29, 2012

Director John Hillcoat and musician Nick Cave have collaborated numerous times since the late 1980s, from Cave having starred in Ghosts… of the Civil Dead to composing Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Lawless marks their second collaboration involving Cave as screenwriter, following The Proposition. That outback-set western was a film of strong lyricism and a blistering atmosphere. Like The Proposition, Lawless concerns three brothers with ties to crime and extreme violence. Unlike the 2005 film, Hillcoat’s latest is an unusually flat affair and lacking in any of the director’s usually reliable boldness regarding harsh, brutal content…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)

August 24, 2012

This was written for The Skinny, but below the link is an expanded version of my review for them.

Review for The Skinny
Also available in The Skinny’s August 2012 print edition.

In 1997, over three years after a child’s disappearance in San Antonio, Texas, a seemingly traumatised teenager found in a phone booth in Spain claimed to be the missing boy. When circumstances led authorities to believe him after an ambiguously articulated tale, he was returned to his family through his sister flying to Spain to identify and collect him. Nicholas Barclay, a blue-eyed, blonde thirteen year old American now had brown eyes, dark hair dyed blonde, a French accent, less pale skin, and looked much older than sixteen. Claiming to have escaped from a child prostitution ring where he was tortured, this Nicholas was an imposter, but was somehow still accepted by the family without question. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Updates (August 24th)

August 24, 2012

As several films I reviewed at the 2012 installment of the Edinburgh International Film Festival are now being released in numerous territories worldwide, the next few weeks, and indeed months, shall see a reposting of my reviews of such films as The Imposter, Lawless, Pusher, Berberian Sound Studio and others.

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Brave (Mark Andrews/Brenda Chapman, 2012)

August 20, 2012


This review contains some narrative spoilers.

There is a memorable moment in the third act of Brave in which three male suitors for protagonist Princess Merida speak on their own behalf in agreement with her argument that people should choose who they marry, that the younger generation should be allowed to find their own path. In this moment of outspokenness, these characters, which have up to this point been one-note caricatures, emerge with a semblance of multiple dimensions, and the standard loner protagonist finds she is not the only sensible person in her world. She is part of a community. Amidst many of Brave’s more generic elements, this is a development that proves especially enjoyable. Read the rest of this entry ?