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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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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TV Review: Sherlock, His Last Vow

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So that’s it, our winter fling with Sherlock is over! But what a finale, “His Last Vow” has everything; intrigue, misdirection, revelations and mystery. After last week’s episode which received mixed reactions from fans, Episode 3 sees Sherlock back at the height of its powers.

We finally venture inside Sherlock’s mind palace in this episode in a dream sequence to rival David Lynch, the place where Sherlock keeps all his memories and knowledge stored away in rooms is not always the sanest of places. Here we not only encounter his younger self, but his childhood dog, a much more malevolent version of his brother Mycroft and most disturbingly Moriarty enclosed in a padded cell but very much alive and as mad as ever. This whole sequence takes place in the 3 seconds of consciousness Sherlock has after being shot, it is a brilliant mixture of science, humor and Sherlock brilliance. Stylistically it is great with Molly appearing as the scientific version of his psyche and Mycroft popping up to remind him how stupid he is being, all this is done with an effortless cinematography that reflects the erratic nature of Sherlock’s mind. His descent down the staircase of his mind palace intersperses these scenes and it is only when in the hospital, when agonizing each step back the winding Parisian flight of stairs corresponds with a heartbeat, that you can appreciate how hard Sherlock is willing to fight to save his friend John Watson.

To the biggest reveal of the episode and even the series … look away now if you have yet to watch it!

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There’s something about Mary. Mary Watson nee. Morstan is not what she seems; the clues were always there, she recognized the skip code, she has no family, and she can rival Sherlock keeping up with his weirdness. Even so, this was one mystery the audience was not really trying to solve. The writers have so cleverly introduced Mary into our hearts, she was perfect for John and a brilliant witty rival to Sherlock that it almost feels like she has betrayed us as we see her standing there gun to the head of Magnussen. We still don’t really know who or what she was, assassin seems the most logical profession given what Magnussen sees in his file but nothing is spelled out. The knowing and not knowing is used brilliantly to maintain and even increase our respect for Mary as she runs from this dangerous past life, had the facts been spelled out plainly it would lend her character a more controversial edge that wouldn’t really suit the tone of the program.

Magnussen is perhaps the biggest red herring the program has ever attempted to slip by us, and it worked! Built up as a Moriarty type figure, brooding in the background and controlling the attacks on Sherlock and John, but as it turns out he was simply fodder to bring out the amazing truth about Mary. While he is certainly important to the plot, he is mainly there as a distraction and a conduit for action. Clearly set up as a Rupert Murdoch figure, he is designed to be hated. With files on every important person in the country, Magnussen even has Mycroft running scared. It is with Magnussen that the shows real twists and turns manifest themselves, with          Sherlock gambling his freedom and the security of the state on Magnussen’s “vaults”.

While this episode was certainly high in drama, it didn’t lack comedy. Curve balls including Sherlock having a girlfriend, and perhaps less shockingly being found in crack den serve to lighten the tone of the show. The introduction of Sherlock’s thoroughly ordinary parents was a stroke of genius and Christmas at the Holmes’ is quite a treat.

“His Last Vow” has been known to fans for a while as “His Last Bow”, leading internet theorists to conclude this would be the final series but happily they were mistaken. With the reappearance of Moriarty on every TV screen in the country Mycroft his forced to call Sherlock back from his exile after the events surrounding Magnussen’s “vaults” setting us up nicely for another series.

This third series of the show came back with a bang, faltered slightly in the second third but then came through for a triumphant finish in a finale to rival “The Reichenbach Fall”. As usual every episode was brimming with English acting talent, comedy and drama and even Episode 2 which was commonly held to be a little below standard was brilliant compared to other trudging crime dramas. Just a year wait this time, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long year with the mystery of Moriarty hanging over us!

 

TV Review: The Tunnel

The Tunnel TV review

From the makers of Broadchurch comes The Tunnel a smart, stylish and thoroughly European take on the murder mystery. When a body is discovered in the service tunnels of the Channel Tunnel a Anglo-French investigation begins into to the person later dubbed the “Truth Terrorist” or the “Terroriste Vérité” depending on which side of the channel we are on. This cleverly constructed crime thriller effortlessly spans the 21-mile stretch of water with subtitled passages running smoothly alongside the English-speaking scenes.

Elise (Clémence Poésy) and Karl (Stephen Dillane), the French and English officers on the case, are thrown together in difficult circumstances and have an uneasy relationship, but predictably his wise cracking English personality somewhat melts her icy, almost sociopathic, front to build an unlikely friendship. So far so predictable, but this slow moving drama builds cleverly with each episode always leaving you wanting just a little more information. The controlled pace allows mysteries to build and unfurl over several episodes rather than granting the quick gratification and neat endings we often expect from a police drama.

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With star turns from the likes of Keeley Hawes and Joseph Mawle it is needless to say that the level of acting talent is very high, however sometimes the dialogue can be a little clunky. This is a shame as is distracts from the fairly sophisticated plot, but the intriguing nature of the “Truth Terrorist” and the slow coming together of disparate plotlines is enough to keep you watching over the 10, 45-minute episodes.

Read more at: TQS Magazine 

DVD released: 13th January.

SHERLOCK IS BACK!!!

Ok so before my review proper I need to have a little fan girl moment to say “Arghhhhhhhhhhhh Sherlock is back!!!!” . . . OK overexcited moment over on to the professional bit.

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**Spoilers**

Sherlock’s back in with a bang in the first episode of this the third and much awaited series of the BBC drama. Everything we once loved about the great detective has returned to our screens, seemingly empowered by his 2 year break Sherlock bursts into our living rooms in a whirlwind of fan theories and swishing overcoats. Embracing the MANY theories as to how Sherlock survived his “Reichenbach” fall “The Empty Hearse” tantalizes audiences by dramatizing a diverse cross section of the theories from the plausible to the more outlandish, fan-fiction inspired but never really revealing the truth about his fall.

This device of drawing the audience into a theory before trashing it is used through out the episode and never gets old, each time the audience willing it to be the big reveal. Writer Stephen Moffat cleverly avoids disappointing anyone by letting the fans dictate what might have happened; he has said in many an interview that the fan theories are far more elaborate and interesting than the truth – so why not embrace that creativity!

The writers of “The Empty Hearse” have us wait a full 10 minutes to see that face, but when we do that little smile of his is enough to wipe away the last 2 years of waiting, wondering and theorizing.

Of course Sherlock is not only returning to us but to John Watson, having grown a grief moustache and moved on with his life Watson is not as pleased as Sherlock would have had him at his triumphant return. In a nice slapstick routine Sherlock dressed as a waiter reveals himself to John only to have John not recognize him. This is followed by a brilliant sequence in which Sherlock is attacked by John in multiple restaurants of descending quality; each of which they are thrown out of before ending up in the street, Sherlock with a broken nose.

Having decided to return to his previous position as Sherlock’s medical consultant/sidekick Watson returns to Baker Street only to be thrown in at the deep end as he is kidnapped and placed in a burning bonfire. Based around Bonfire Night, “The Empty Hearse” features an attack on Parliament and a lot of explosives. 5th November, now known as Bonfire Night is the night in 1605 when Guy Fawkes, a Catholic member of the Gunpowder Plot, placed explosives under parliament in an attempt to kill the Protestant King James I. To celebrate the capture of the terrorists people lit bonfires around London, and so people around Britain still light bonfires and set of fireworks on 5th November. The more sinister use of the bonfire as a live funerary pyre is sure to scar some kids at next year’s celebrations!

The quickly unraveling plot is full of the brilliant stylistic markers we have come to expect from the previous 2 series, the sharp editing, use of overlapping images and above all the fantastic transitionally pieces. The plot is fast paced and moves between emotion, pathos and action effortlessly, a brilliant return for the famous detective.

The 2-year wait has more than paid off; the plot, characters and music all seem like old friends that have been given a new lease of life. The franchise seems reanimated and refocused, and even though the whole thing will be over again in 17 days it’s sure to be a rollercoaster ride of a series with many a new mystery to obsess over.

Film Review: The Counsellor

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Welcome to a world of philosopher gangsters, gun slinging drug runners and conniving femme fatales, a world that could only have been created by the pen of Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men) Warning: misogynistic themes throughout.

The Counsellor, McCarthy’s first purpose built screenplay, unfortunately falls slightly flat despite its A-list cast. Given the calibre of the on-screen talent he secured, with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz gracing the screen, it is unsurprising that The Cousellor is singularly well acted. Fassbender is particularly effective as the eponymous Counsellor, who inexplicably involves himself in a drug deal that subsequently goes very badly wrong for everyone involved. However given the attention paid to presentation, the plot seems a little … unfinished.

The motivation for the Counsellor’s involvement in this shady underworld is never adequately explained, while he appears to know some dodgy people fairly well, the explanation of “greed” that is rather weakly pushed forward once the shit has well and truly hit the fan doesn’t really do much to satisfy. Given this fairly large plot hole it is difficult to feel any real connection to the man who story drags us into this world of murder and betrayal.

With Ridley Scott behind the camera The Counsellor does capture the beauty and the violence of the world we inhabit for 2 hours. A particularly brilliant scene sees a cheetah running down a hare in the New Mexico desert, the barren yellow landscape almost doubling for the savannah. Scott deals with the violence of McCarthy script very well with much implied and left to the imagination; the shoot-outs are kept to a minimum giving them much more impact.

Predictably McCarthy’s talent for writing misogynistic gangsters is used almost to the point of stupidity. There are more monologues about sex and “women”, said in the most despairing way, than there is actual plot. The only effect is to give the film a jarring rhythm that lurches from philosophical monologue to misogynistic monologue and back again.

Despite the A-list cast and director, and what should have been an A-list screenwriter, The Counsellor while not lacking in emotion, loses any connection with the audience through its superficial treatment of the plot and grating monologues.

In UK cinemas now.