Archive | February, 2013

Ruby Sparks

24 Feb

ruby sparks

 

 

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Writer: Zoe Kazan

Stars: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 104 minutes

 

This is a film made by couples about couples. The directors are Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the real-life couple behind the indie breakout Little Miss Sunshine. The stars are real-life couple Paul Dano, who featured in Sunshine, and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote this). As the product of 2 working couples, Ruby Sparks feels intimate and it is clear that it is a sincere effort with some highly astute observations about relationships as one would hope.

Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a solitary twenty something struggling on his second novel having had great success with his first. He lives in the hills above LA in a modern, but austere home with his small dog. Calvin has few friends and his main social interaction comes via his older brother. This is good casting; Dano is excellent as the awkward and somewhat drifting novelist. You can feel Calvin’s frustrations building and it comes as no surprise that he fantasizes about an amazing young woman coming into and shaking up his life. He needs a muse and he needs shaking up.

Calvin’s dream girl is Ruby Sparks. He creates her on the page, but almost immediately she becomes real. That transition is smart and funny. In fact the first half of the film is excellent and throws up some neat surprises and some great lines. Dano is completely thrown by the incursion of his dream girl and Zoe Kazan as Ruby Sparks is wonderful.

My feeling with Ruby Sparks is that the film-makers started production with a great concept, but not clarity on the tone. Accordingly the first half of the film is good, but thereafter it falters. Kazan wants to show how controlling one half of a couple can become. Also, that perfect partners are rarely that and how easy it is to start looking for something better. Those are serious themes and the film does get darker towards the end. That’s OK, but the darkness clashes with the early laughs and the conclusion flips back to the kooky indie side again.

Kazan is a decent writer and a very good actress on this showing. Clearly she and Dano have a lot of chemistry and there is nice supporting work by Elliott Gould, Steve Coogan and by Annette Bening. Many of the constituent parts work, but the end result does not. This is a good concept stretched too thin and Ruby Sparks is a much weaker personality than Little Miss Sunshine.

Berberian Sound Studio

20 Feb

berberian sound studio

Director:

Peter Strickland

Writer:

Peter Strickland

Stars:

Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Suzy Kendall

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 92 minutes

Giallo horror films emerged in the late 1960s, flourished in the 1970s and fell away by the 1980s. They were Italian films based on the yellow (‘giallo’) covered paperback books with crime and mystery themes. In moving to celluloid those novels took on a heavy dose of sex and depravity. Strongly psychological, giallo horror films typically had extended murder sequences (forerunners of the modern slasher movie). Films such as Torso and Deep Red were and remain disturbing. In Berberian Sound Studio Peter Strickland pays homage to giallo horror and delivers a similarly uncomfortable ride.

Toby Jones is Gilderoy, an unassuming English sound engineer hired to work on a giallo horror film in Italy in 1976. He is unsuited to the task at hand and out of step with the rather laid back and mysterious Italians in and around the studio. That said, he does get stuck into the work at hand laying on the sound effects to a violent film about witch trials and black magic. Gilderoy smashes rotting fruit, stabs fresh melons and records endless screams from local actors. He adds texture to the horrible images that are projected off-screen.

The unravelling of Gilderoy, a quiet man isolated in a foreign land and deeply affected by the sick and twisted film that he is working on, is the heart of this film. As such his dream life starts to overlap with his real life and we the audience are given little help to identify where the dividing line sits. There is a strong dose of David Lynch running through this film and Strickland does well to conjure up an unsettling ambiance in the style of Blue Velvet and Lost Highway.

Peter Strickland is a UK writer-director to keep a close eye on. His first film was the spell-binding Katalin Varga and whilst this second effort is not as impactful, it is still a very clever and original film. There is enormous skill on display here and fantastic performances from the dependable Toby Jones and others including Fatma Mohammed (as actress Silvia, a formidable screamer). The use of sound is particularly smart as might be expected; it provides visceral shocks. The tone is foreboding and sinister and it is all very creepy if not completely intelligible.

Looper

10 Feb

looper

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 119 minutes

Rian Johnson is a 39 year-old native of Maryland who is building an impressive TV and film resume. His breakthrough was the film Brick in 2005 and since then he has worked impressively on the film The Brothers Bloom and the TV series Breaking Bad. With Looper he has delivered his best work to date. He wrote and directed it and in both departments his talent shines through. This is splendid stuff – a time travelling thriller that works on multiple levels.

As with Brick, the lead actor is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Here he plays a hitman for the mob, a so-called looper. He gets paid to kill enemies of the mob sent back from the future. He eliminates them and any problems that they might create down the road for criminal paymasters he has never met. It’s a complex business time travel and clearly a sci-fi device, but it sits perfectly in the middle of this story. Johnson balances high concept with serious drama and gets great performances out of Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis (as the aged hitman).

The encounter between the young and the old killer is the cornerstone of Looper. This is about boys becoming men and the importance of mentors along the way. Willis has a lot to tell his younger self, but Gordon-Levitt is too busy living fast to worry about the future. In that future Willis has found love and as such this story is also about having a love that you will kill or die for – holding it tight no matter what. The aged hitman needs to educate the younger man about living, but has to do so without losing his own life in the process.

There are big themes here, cleverly interwoven and built on a strong screenplay. Looper has been passed over in awards season, but Johnson deserves a lot of credit for his writing on this. The cast is strong and all of the actors deliver (with Gordon-Levitt and Willis playing off each other particularly well). This is an eye-catching, absorbing, well-paced and moving film – all things that I struggled to find in last year’s blockbuster Inception. And what a great starting point; what would your 55 year old self tell your 25 year old self if it could?

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