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

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: 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.

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.

American Hustle Trailer

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Con-man helps FBI uncover serial “Bad Guys”. Sounds like a pretty average idea for a movie . . . but then you add in Bradley Cooper, Christen Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence AND Jeremy Renner and you may just have a great movie going!

Not to mention the aura of David O. Russel surrounding the whole production; THEN you might have an award contender!

UK release date set as Boxing Day this year.

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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