Film Review: The Voices (2014)

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Welcome to the wonderfully kitsch world of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds). Working in baby pink overalls, packaging bathtubs in a friendly factory with a host of likably kooky colleagues Jerry’s world resembles a slightly grotty Wes Anderson creation. The quiet town of Milton swims in 50s Americana hues as we follow Jerry on his daily life, to his court appointed psychiatrists meetings, dates with the “accounting chicks” and home to his abrasive cat Mr Whiskers and his doleful buddy Bosco the dog. The magic realism that arrives with the voices of Mr Whiskers and Bosco seems strangely unproblematic in the nostalgic and slightly ethereal setting of Milton.

As the extent of Jerry’s own mental health issues and troubled past comes to light, the kooky talking animals take on a more sinister tone as we begin to understand the full extent of his psychosis. Ignoring the pleas of Dr Warren, played by the brilliantly concerned Jacki Weaver, Jerry continues to skip his medication, choosing to live in the airbrushed world he has created for himself.

The Voices cleverly plays with the audiences expectations, presented with the nostalgic all-American setting we choose to accept and live the fiction along with Jerry, accepting the conceit as it is presented to us. It is only once Jerry, consumed by his guilt about ‘inadvertent’ murder of Fiona (Gemma Arterton), starts taking his medication that the veneer drops and the audience is allowed to see the truth behind the unmediated glow of Jerry’s life. Gone are the soft pastels and mid-century furniture, replaced with overflowing bin bags, animal faeces and Tupperware filled with human remains.

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Faced with the revelation that we have been living in the delusion of our unreliable protagonist, The Voices does well to tread the difficult line of dark comedy. Reynolds’ brilliantly naïve portrayal of a man ruled by his angel dog and devil cat is pitched perfectly. He is able to maintain Jerry’s affable innocence, even while he chats to the growing collection of heads in his fridge. The violence with which Jerry dismembers his victims is almost comical in and of itself, while the liberal application of gore retains the power to wrinkle the most desensitised of noses.

With a stellar supporting cast The Voices had the potential to over play its hand. With the likes of Anna Kendrick (Lisa), Gemma Arterton (Fiona) and Jacki Weaver (Dr Warren) there is always the potential to overuse famous faces, but the generous scattering of stars is used wisely. While Reynolds steals the show with his faultlessly innocent performance, Arterton completely hits the mark with her mixture of aloof flirtation and vaguely inappropriate post mortem perkiness.

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The Voices has a lot to owe to Sightseers (2012), Ben Wheatley’s thoroughly underrated tale of a murderous caravan trip across Britain. Where similarly offbeat characters murder their way through the plot, with a distinctive lack of empathy fuelling the dark murderous comedy. Here, Michael Perry’s script capitalises on Jerry’s a childlike understanding of his own actions combined with a complete lack of sympathy for his victims – creating a character who is both compelling to watch and impossible to save.

Under Marjane Satrapi’s direction, and through the use of comic book framing, The Voices effortlessly combines the comically hyperbolic and the dark reality of mental illness in a twisted mixture that will leave you both disgusted and thoroughly entertained.

UK release date: 20th March 2015

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Film Review: Her directed by Spike Jones 

Love: “It’s a socially acceptable form of insanity” quips Amy (Amy Adams) friend and confident of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a man in the depths of an all-consuming love affair with his computer. Set in an undated future where retro fashion prevails, books are a rarity and computers are wooden Theodore encounters a new form of computer operating system: OS One. This is no ordinary OS update, this is an OS with a soul. While computers with personalities have never been far from the minds of sci-fi writers, with Eddy in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy basically having a nervous breakdown, Her looks deeper than the gimmick at an all together more disturbing possibility. What if man and computer could form a real and deep connection? What if they could fall in love? 

With Scarlet Johansson voicing Theodore’s “girlfriend” Samantha, this sentient computer is all but human, she can learn and evolve according to her experiences and importantly she sounds throughly human. Sentient computers have always had a habit of appearing creepy or manipulative, Kevin Spacey’s GERTY in Moon is a great example of how dehumanising adding a human voice to an inanimate object can be. Her avoids this by focusing not on the computer but on the voice that Theodore hears and interacts with, by removing the computer screen almost entirely from their relationship it can at times feel like Theodore and Samantha are simply communicating over the phone.       

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Film Review: Kelly + Victor

Many a film has been dubbed the anti-500 Days of Summer, but none has been so deserving as the tale of a torrid love affair that is Kelly + Victor. Based on the 2002 Naill Griffiths novel of the same name Kelly + Victor is the dark cousin of the romantic comedy, when Kelly and Victor meet in a club in Liverpool the attraction is instant but neither of them could anticipate the twisted path their relationship would take.

With a thoroughly unsentimental take on new love British director Kieran Evans is able to create a relationship that is both real and bizarrely twisted. When Kelly unlocks a sexual dark side in Victor neither of them is able to leave the other and while their relationship falters and recovers in waves throughout the 90-minute film there is never a doubt about their ultimate compatibility.

It is not only their relationship that is portrayed in a refreshingly down-to-earth way; the characters that surround the couple are instantly recognisable as real, familiar personalities. Despite the extreme actions taken by some of the supporting characters the brilliant direction and dialogue ground Kelly + Victor very much in the real world.

See more at TQS Magazine 

Out on DVD now. 

Film Review: The Fifth Estate dir. Bill Condon

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The Fifth Estate is a film of contrasts; the contrast between the controversial topic and the A-list cast; the contrast between Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), between Wikileaks’ intention and the eventual reaction and consequences, but most importantly between traditional print media and online sources of information – the Fourth, and eponymous, Fifth Estate.

Almost manic in its delivery of information The Fifth Estate captures the hectic and sometimes chaotic atmosphere that appears to have surrounded Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The constant movement from country to country only emphasises the global impact of the organisation and of the story the film is trying to tell.

Based on a book published by The Guardian in 2011, The Fifth Estate attempts to bring the “unvarnished truth” to light, a task in which Assange believes they have failed. His categoric dismissal of the film is addressed in a particularly self-aware section at the very end of the film where Cumberbatch is shown, in close up as Assange, rejecting the validity of any “Wikileaks film”.

Cumberbatch’s brilliant character study is the key to the films success, while Brühl’s depiction of Daniel Berg is by far the more emotionally engaging performance; Cumberbatch’s Assange has the kind of manic intelligence, with a hint of instability that makes him captivating to watch. The subtle decline of his character from cool collected freedom fighter to reckless egotist is seamless and beautifully controlled.

Read the full review here

In Cinemas Now.

Film Review: Elysium dir. Neill Blomkamp

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It’s hard to believe that Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi epic with a social message, Elysium, is only his second major outing on the big screen. The South African born director’s debut District 9 (2009) paved the way for this year’s release. While District 9’s story focused on a sci-fi take on South Africa’s difficult history of apartheid, Elysium deals with social injustice of a different kind.

Elysium sees “The 99%” left on the giant slum that is planet Earth, while the rich and beautiful play on the haunting, circular space station Elysium. Elysium is a tranquil paradise populated by people who all seem to have live-in hairstylists, live in Hamptons-style ‘suburbs’ and thanks to Nano-technology, can be cured of anything. Meanwhile Earth is a giant slum, where people are policed by robots and struggle through life.

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Matt Damon is Max, inhabitant of Earth who dreams of Elysium. A radioactive accident leaves Max with no choice but to fight for a ticket to Elysium where his condition can be quickly cured. Black market shuttles to Elysium rarely arrive, but Max is willing to try anything for his chance to be cured; taking on dangerous tasks for criminal with a conscience Spider (Wanger Moura).

His childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) is soon drawn into the mix, and while he struggles to save her and her sick child (Emma Tremblay) there is a refreshing lack of sexual tension or even chemistry between them. This noble desire to save his friend allows the plot to progress without becoming stuck in the quagmire that can be hastily written romances in an action film.

Despite Damon’s A-list status, Sharlto Copley steals the show as sleeper agent Kruger who is called in to track down Max. His South African accent coupled with his unfailing sense of comic timing just hits the nail on the head, creating a menacing yet oddly likeable villain. 

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Film Review: Only God Forgives (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

After Nicholas Winding Refn’s last critic-dividing offering Drive, we approach his newest offering Only God Forgives with a kind of hesitant excitement. Being a Drive fan, this film has been on my mental ‘must-watch list’ for a while.

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While Only God Forgives is certainly more unashamedly arthouse than Drive it maintains the same bare dialogue and attention to detail that marked Drive out as something out of the ordinary. So the dialogue is sparse (and that is perhaps a tentative way to phrase it); Ryan Gosling as Julian (the films poster boy) has only 17 lines . . . in the entire film!! While the other actors fare better in the line tally, the film plays heavily on the strength of Cliff Martinez’s soaring score which pulls the films along it’s increasingly dark and violent course. The score plays unrelentingly over the silent screams of many a victim of the films vengeful plot, creating a brilliantly detached feel as the characters shout in Tai with their pleas unheard by the audience or the unrelenting vigilante cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

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Jackanory Reviews: The Top 5 Films Of 2013 So Far . . .

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So 2013 has been a great year for films, with releases from new directors and veterans the choice in cinemas has been great. This list is purely personal, based on my own critical opinions and personal enjoyment, and designed to inform and maybe inspire a few more viewings or purchases for some of my favourite films of this year so far . . .

To read the full review of any of the films in this list just click on the title.

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