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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TV Review: This Is Jinsy

“We’re dealing with a back combed asymmetric bouffant the size of a cow, what do you want me to do give it a shampoo and set?” with this cry Stephen Fry sets the tone for the whole second series of This Is Jinsy. Jinsy is a place of weirdness, whimsey and wonder with a dark underlying tyrannical streak, it is a place with feral accountants, singing obituaries and Sandy’s Choice – a talent show judged by a dog. 

With a pilot put out by the BBC This Is Jinsy was eventually picked up by Sky Comedy and is now in it’s second series, perhaps a little too off the wall for the BBC since the inevitable demise of the brilliantly offbeat The Mighty Boosh; Sky has definitely hit gold with this thoroughly British comedy series. The potential love child of The League of Gentlemen  and Monty Python, This Is Jinsy  is the next in a long, orderly queue of bizarre British comedies. 

Set on an island, loosely based on Guernsey the home of the two writers Chris Bran and Justin Chubb, This Is Jinsy’s whimsey takes place in 20 minute long independent stories. While it is not a sketch show there are elements of the genre in the short snippets of the islands TV that we are treated to. In these interruptions to the story we are gifted with such musical numbers as “Vegetable Tricks” and “This Mock Fireplace You Gave Me”, as well as the show Extreme Etiquette for Girls.

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TV Review: Hello Ladies, The Dinner

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Oh the cringe worthy comedy of this weeks Hello Ladies is pure gold. The sitcom staple, the dinner party, is used to it full horrifying potential as Stuart and Jessica attempt to impress at a society dinner party in the LA hills. Populated with “taste makers and ground breakers” this looks like the worst, most awkward dinner party anyone has been too … ever!
Each going with their own agenda, Stuart to try and hook up with a model (again) and Jessica to not be outdone by her ‘friend’ (again), the sheer social awkwardness of the couple is manipulated brilliantly on a rollercoaster ride of near misses and totally disasters.

With Stuart swinging from childhood bullying stories to outrageous gay jokes, the audience is kept in suspense just wondering when, not if, this whole thing will come crashing around their ears. Jessica’s hidden talent emerges in this episode – a penchant for tap dancing. Competing to impress the editor of the rising talent section of Vanity Fair, Jessica’s friend gives a rousing rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, to counter Jessica reveals a talent for tap, giving a surprisingly long and athletic performance, which leaves the assembled guests somewhat bemused.

Read the full review here

TV Review: Hello Ladies – The Limo

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Following on from a solid pilot Hello Ladies fully hits its stride in episode two. The interplay and parallels between the disastrous nights of Stuart and his tenant Jessica creates a darkly comic storyline.

Stuart’s overwhelming self-interest creates a brilliant opening scene in which he manages to ruin both Jessica’s shoot and Wade’s romantic gesture to his wife in less than five minutes. This selfishness is coming more to the fore as a main facet of Stuart’s personality. I anticipate (and look forward to) many a laugh at his expense.

As Wade’s marriage falls further and further into disrepair, the boys are once again left to console their friend with a night on the town in LA. As the title of the show suggests, Stuart’s focus on ‘The Ladies’ causes him no end of trouble.

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Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror

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The things that crawl from the twisted imagination of Charlie Brooker will never cease to amaze me. The latest series of Black Mirror being no exception; the brilliantly crafted episodes are works of sheer genius.

Set in a universe that takes the most obvious facets of our society and twists them just enough to appear extreme, the stories are a comment on the state of the modern world. Something Brooker succeeds in doing without appearing condescending or trite. You sit there criticizing the seemingly inhuman aspects of the characters; then, once the 60 minutes have elapsed, you find yourself thinking that maybe you would have done them same. That self-analysis is exactly what Brooker is pushing for.

That is not to say the programme is a difficult watch, they are extremely well written with intrigue and suspense woven brilliantly into the stand-alone
stories. Rather than being off-putting, the twisted reality is the driving force behind the fear/repulsion/confusion (delete where applicable). While the similarities keep you fascinated.

Many people will have seen the last series (broadcast last year on Channel 4) and so far, 2 episodes in, this series stands up to, if not surpasses, the brilliance of the last. In the first episode we see a grieving woman turn to technology to ‘reconnect’ with her dead partner. A storyline that escalates beyond any normal imagination.

The episode 2 starts with a woman waking up from a possible suicide attempt to a world where people are merely spectators. They passively filming her on their phones as murderous ‘hunters’ chase her down, transfixed by the excitement.

A twisted imagination, yes; but a fantastic one. Black Mirror is unmissable; the genius of Charlie Brooker’s dark brilliance adds a sharp flavour to Monday night viewing. Something that is much needed and will be much missed after next week.

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Epsiode 3 Airs: Monday 25th Feb, 10pm, Channel 4.

All episodes available on 4OD.

This is 40 Dir. Judd Apatow

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Billed as the sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up, This Is 40 is a middle of the road comedy about a couple as they reach 40 and find they have to try a little harder to keep their lives on track. No one is kidding themselves; the plot is simply a vehicle for the gags and unsurprisingly it doesn’t really hang together for the full 130 minutes.

A wealthy LA couple who run their own independent businesses and have every gadget going? Perhaps not the easiest characters to sympathise with. While the Apatow staples are thrown at them – dysfunctional families/friends, arguing children and money troubles – it’s really difficult to see why they are so overly concerned with revamping their lives.

It’s odd that a plot based so much in reality should be so unbelievable. Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow’s real life wife, plays Debbie and the kids are actually theirs. In fact Maude and Iris Apatow prove to be one of the redeeming features of this film as they play the warring siblings. Paul Rudd gives a great performance as always, with his usual boyish charm.

Like most Apatow films there are numerous cameos throughout all of which work well, but are nothing new – Megan Fox in her underwear, Jason Segal as a flirty fitness coach and Melissa McCarthy as an emotionally unstable parent. It has the makings of a very funny film but it’s predictable; the mouthy kids and awkwardly blunt old people seem a little trite, as if Apatow is working to a lucrative template.

As a take-your-brain-out comedy it’s fine. It’ll make you laugh and smile but it’s (ironically enough) about 40 minutes too long, as there’s not really enough substance to the plot to keep you engaged.

This is 40 is very much of its type; great if you like it, but maybe one to save for a rainy DVD day if not.