Monthly Archives: May 2013

Review: Sightseers

Sightseers_TitlecardRating: 8/10     Director: Ben Wheatley     Starring: Alice Lowe (Tina), Steve Oram (Chris)     Screenwriters: Amy Jump, Alice Lowe, Steve Oram Director of Photography: Laurie Rose

Warning! Spoilers Throughout

Sightseers” has permanently altered my view on the Caravan holiday. In Britain the Caravan trip is widely viewed as a piss poor excuse for an adventure often reserved for families of the suburbs and the elderly; over here no Caravaner is safe from public ridicule. Thanks to “Sightseers” I will now forever associate Caravaning with ginger bearded serial killers, Daily Mail readers and a dog named Banjo … or is it Poppy? Ben Wheatley has demonstrated a knack for blurring the lines between genres in his previous titles, but intertwining comedy and horror will have undoubtedly presented a fresh yet daunting challenge to the director and his screenwriters.

Although “Sightseers” is undeniably a black comedy (and a very dark one at that), the brutal violence and humor refuse to intertwine for so much as an instant. Obviously this has been done to dodge the issue of taking dramatic effect away from the severity of the murders, but I feel the juxtaposing scenes of horror and comedy infer that “Sightseers” is wrestling with an identity crisis of sorts. When compared to “Four Lions”a superb example of British black comedy that also grapples the theme of mass murder – the absence of a connection between comedy and violence in “Sightseers” feels a little disappointing, perhaps more could have been done by Wheatley and the writing trio to mend the gap between comedy and horror as Chris Morris managed to with “Four Lions”.

In spite of its slightly confusing demeanor “Sightseers” remains comical in a charmingly witty and quirky British sense. Tina (Lowe) and Chris’s (Oram) meal at the roadside restaurant yielded the funniest moment in the film; Tina’s justification of Chris’s murders as being ‘green’ in the long run was a witty, satirical nudge at European obsessions with environmental security and the very British way of trying to justify absolutely everything.

The majority of “Sightseers” slander targets the inconsiderate and the self entitled that Chris possesses a strong taste for murdering. These detestable characters were very notably targeted in the incident with the Daily Mail reader and the dog poo where-in Chris openly expressed annoyance with the mans smug sense of self entitlement, before providing him with a long overdue bludgeoning. On discovering a copy of the Daily Mail in his bag Chris denounces the notion of him being a human, expressing Wheatley, Lowe, Oram and a majority of Britain’s current disdain for conservatives and the right wing without reserve.

The motives behind Chris and Tina’s murders are still debatable, despite the aforementioned focus of “Sightseers” jibes. Chris always seemed driven by his disgust for inconsiderate behavior and pompousness, the running down of the tram litterer in the first half of the movie cleverly signposted these motivations for slaughter to come in the latter half of the film.

On the other hand the reasons behind Tina’s murders are a little less straight forward. It could be argued that Tina – much alike Chris – murdered the bride on the basis of her inconsiderate behavior, but I’m convinced it was an act largely motivated by revenge. Moreover Tina managed to park the Caravan on top of a road side runner, and shove Chris’s new friend/business partner off of a steep cliff face whilst he lay encased in his hopeless Carapod contraption. The latter killing was seemingly brought about by Tina’s paranoia and distrust of Chris’s friend, but the murder of the runner was fueled simply by Tina’s demand for Chris’s approval.  In light of Chris not satisfying her desperation for approval in the face of her whacking his new mate, Tina tricked him into launching himself off the Ribblehead to his death. I personally think she decided to dupe him because of his hypocritically self absorbed and inconsiderate behavior that you’ll have likely twigged in the latter half of the film.

I never found myself rooting for Tina or Chris, but their depth of character was the foundation for an engrossing and wholly original story that owes a lot of its worth to Lowe and Oram, who both formulated this brutally grim idea behind this dark as can be comedy, and acted out the key roles masterfully. The Director of Photography Laurie Rose delivered justice to the serenity of northern British countryside and the ancient architecture that lies within it through the regular use of picturesque establishing shots that were crucially important to maintaining the immersion in a story so heavily influenced by the locale of scenes.

Overall “Sightseers” is an ultimately enjoyable, must watch black comedy with an air of charming, off beat originality and a resonant moral message to British society: try not to be inconsiderate, and stop reading the Daily Mail – ginger serial killers hate it.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

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A Study of the New French Extremity

Lars-Trier

The New French Extremity – like any industry jargon – sounds like an intimidating film concept, but thankfully the idea of the New French Extremity is very simple to understand. James Quandt, a critic at Artforum who conjured up the term, described the unique genre as:

“Cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement.” – James Quandt, Artforum

In essence, the New French Extremity is a horror sub genre where-in extreme, often sexually oriented acts of mutilation and violence are the focal point of the movies within. Think “The Human Centipede” with subtitles, and you basically have the gist of what movies within the New French Extremity category are all about …

(Check out my FULL ARTICLE over at The Artifice!)

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Game of Thrones Recap: The Bear, The Bear, and The Maiden Fair!

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Warning: Spoilers Throughout!

Jamie and Brienne stole the show again in “The Bear and The Maiden Fair” as their complex, multi layered relationship continued to develop. Instead of opting for a scene implementing the tired high fantasy trope – where-in a knight in shining armor (Jamie) rescues a clueless damsel in distress (Brienne) – George R.R Martin ensured that an appropriate emphasis was placed on the mutual respect and cooperation of Jamie and Brienne as they escaped the perilous bear pit.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) neatly summarized why the unlikely duo have such a strong, new found companionship:  “[Jamie] didn’t respect her at first but he respects her now. I think that any relationship whether romantic or friendship, the core value of that is respect. Their relationship isn’t about attraction, but about two people meeting and in many ways seeing themselves in the other person.”

Nikolaj hit the nail on the head. Brienne’s respect for Jamie became evident when she referred to him as ‘Ser Jamie’ as opposed to his slanderous title of ‘King slayer’, recognizing that he is a truer knight than any of the cruel pretenders she has encountered in her past. I’m pleased to see such a successful translation of their relationship from the books to the screen; a lot of that success is owed to Nikolaj, and Gwendoline Christie who have been persistently outstanding in their performances.

vlcsnap-2013-05-13-10h20m48s69I get the impression that a certain cinematographer is a fan of Moonrise Kingdom.

On the subject of convention defying female characters, Daenerys further exerted her power by threatening to siege the slaver city of Yunkai. Oddly the Dragon Queen’s goals appear to have shifted from conquering the Seven Kingdom’s to emancipating the slaves of Essos. Ignoring whether or not this shift in goals is permanent, it can’t be ignored that Dany has begun to wield her power with a cool competence that managed to strike fear into the powerful male representative of the Yunkai slavers; similarly to Brienne, Daenerys breaks the mold of the ‘traditional’ female fantasy character.

Dany’s negotiation scene with the slaver was masterfully punctuated with some superb cinematography; the shot above is the most outstanding example in my mind. The direction in this scene was of an equivalent quality to the cinematography. The coordination of the many extras playing the unsullied as they shifted stance was impressive, as was the inclusion of the eye catching props and clothing that can again be noted in the fantastic shot above.

Joffrey’s slipping control over his uncle, perfectly juxtaposed the improving leadership of Daenerys. The boy king’s meeting with Tywin amply portrayed his uncle’s authoritative demeanor; when Charles Dance climbed the stairs to tower over Joffrey as he sat on the throne, you couldn’t help but connect with Tywin’s sense of power, which was illustrated perfectly through the use of high angle shots over Gleeson as he shifted uncomfortably and helplessly in his seat. Joffrey’s notably unpredictable temperament could potentially lead to quite an ugly outcome if these boiling tensions between uncle and nephew continue to rise.

vlcsnap-2013-05-13-10h20m05s111Tywin’s overriding strength being illustrated by the higher flame.

The theme of disillusionment from “The Climb” bridged over into this episode, most noticeably when Osha said this during her lecturing of Bran: ‘All these bad things happen ’cause the gods got big plans for you? I wish it were true little lord, but the gods wouldn’t spare ravens called shit for you, me or anyone.’ Bran didn’t seem to take any note of this hard truth, but his sister Sansa appears to have gained a better sense of reality.

Sansa instantly called herself stupid for fantasizing about an idealistic wedding with Loras, further chastising herself for not expecting the worse despite all the terrible things that have happened to her since her move to King’s Landing. However in spite of her innocence beginning to fade, Sansa still has a great deal of naivety to overcome; Margaery obviously didn’t garner that sexual knowledge from her mother Sansa. Did the Lannister guards shown in the final shot over hear anything they shouldn’t have? It can only be assumed trouble is afoot for Margaery, I mean why else include the ‘guards’ if not to signpost problems?

If only Robb shared the sentiment of Sansa’s nearing disillusionment. I can’t be the only getting the impression that Talisa isn’t writing back to ‘her mother in Volantis’, but rather acting as an informant for the Lannister party, sewing discord in Robb’s camp and reporting his movements. In fact I discovered a very interesting YouTube video providing the evidence in support of the theory that Talisa is likely a Westerosi Spy; with this very convincing theory brought to light, you can’t help but wonder what will unfold at The Twin’s.

Unfortunately the intrigue of this scene was lined with a degree of corniness (‘I love you, do you hear me?) that I would usually expect to be found in a Tyrion & Shae sequence. The aforementioned Tyrion/Shae exchanges are really starting to grind on me; both the strains on Shae and Tyrion’s love affair, and Gendry’s new knowledge of his grand heritage could’ve been inferred. We don’t need bland scenes to tell us these things, we aren’t stupid.

In the wildling camp, Tormund finally let rip with a few cock gags and his legendary ‘Har! Har!’ thanks to George Martin being at the writing helm, putting all wrongs to right. Orell is intent on stirring up trouble between Ygritte and Jon, forcing the wildling woman to revisit why she supposedly loves everybody’s favorite crow. Jon did an equally fantastic job of planting discerning thoughts in his lovers head by letting her in on the harsh reality of the several failed attempts made by the wildling’s to seize the north. In doing so he subconsciously distanced himself from the wildling’s giving away his remaining loyalty to the Night’s Watch that spells out a tragic end to the couples affections.

Elsewhere in the north Theon’s torture persisted, exceeding last week’s level of cringe worthiness. I thank the seven that they didn’t show his yoghurt lobber getting lopped off and flayed, because that would have gone way over the line of remote decency that is regularly jumped over by films of the new french extremity. Regardless of the effective portrayal of Theon’s torture, the little bit of fumbling in the build up to his captors entrance was nothing less than uncomfortable, if you watch the show with your parents you’ll understand what I’m getting at here.

Finally we come to Arya. Although her showing was brief, it shed light on the sinister developments of Arya’s character under the influence of the recent turmoils in her story. Her growing disdain for Beric and the falsity of The Brotherhood Without Banners as a whole became overwhelming, subsequently leading her to flee straight into the hands of Sandor who lingered near the brotherhood who had yet to repay him. It is safe to say Sandor has his repayment settled, that is of course if he fully intends on handing her back for a ladies ransom.

Have any thoughts? Leave them in the comment section below!

Final Rating: B

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Game of Thrones Season 3 Recap: “The Climb”

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It’s difficult to believe that six weeks have now come and gone since the premiere of Game of Thrones third season; before we know it the finale will be upon us and another year of agonizing waiting will follow.

Criticisms have been contrived from the ever so gradual build up season three has opted for that has only recently shown any signs of changing. Honestly I do find myself empathizing with the irritation of those who have yet to read the books and feel little of worth is happening. That doesn’t mean to say I disagree with Weiss & Benioff’s decision to keep the show at a brisk stroll for the time being. The Climb was no exception to the rule of gradual pacing, yet it made for another truly remarkable watch nonetheless.

Jon and Ygritte were presented with a rather literal climb of the 700ft wall of ice standing between the Wildling special forces team and the expanse of the Seven Kingdoms. In the moments of preparation before the climb Rose Leslie demonstrated that she wasn’t about to let the phenomenal standards of her performances as Ygritte slip now, amply expressing the Wildling women’s endearing affections for Jon with the assistance of impressive dialogue supplied by another superb screenplay.

When fate slowly edged them up the face of The Wall, it was impossible to avoid the feelings of fear and vertigo as the now infatuated couple came close to taking the dive on several occasions. In spite of the undeniably great acting, the air of finesse placed in the cinematography and editing efforts lent the scene almost the entirety of its dramatic effect. The sequencing from the shot of Jon glancing down, to the hauntingly slow pan in showcasing the potential fall he contended with instilled a nightmarish fear in me that couldn’t have been evoked solely off the back of high quality acting.

Sterling cinematography was a consistent element throughout this week’s episode. The continuation of Arya’s adventures alongside The Brotherhood Without Banners (TBWB) were introduced with a very striking shot* where-in a close up of Arya firing a bow shook gently, whilst remaining masterfully in sync with the reverberation of the bow string to seamlessly reflect the feeling of firing an arrow.

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-09h42m42s142*Note the spectacular shot framing also involved in the close up.

Prior to a controversial trade off – Thoros, Beric and Melisandre shared a rather interesting moment of conversation. Thoros admittance of seeking the help of The Red God whom he formerly abandoned in his time of desperation was an accurate, parallel, and perhaps cynical representation of the timeless tendency of people seeking guidance and/or other worldly power in their times of need even if – unlike in Thoros’s fantasy case – they are wholly aware their desires will go unreceived. Beric further bolstered the unromantic, harsh tone of the episode by informing Melisandre that her notion of there being an ‘other side’ was deluded drivel. ‘There is only Darkness’ rang true to very harsh realities that we all face; rarely does a TV show provoke such deep thought from an audience like Game of Thrones can in its prime.

Many book reader’s strong suspicions regarding the intentions behind Melisandre’s ventures away from Stannis’s seat at Dragonstone were all but confirmed when she struck up her exchange of gold for Gendry with TBWB. Clearly she has substantial expectations invested in the blacksmith’s apprentice, expressing her belief in his future role in taking down Stannis’s key opponents. Still a key question lingers: what exactly does the red priestess intend to do with Gendry?

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-12h52m50s255An impressive piece of lighting technique from the cinematographers.

Theon is trapped in a perpetual state of terrible luck that revealed zero indication of letting up on him as his cruel torture persisted. The monstrosity of the games his captor plays with him are on a sickening level that reflect the typical antics of the boy king Joffrey to the letter; thankfully momentary shots of Theon’s finger flaying were all that was necessary to extort a strong wincing and cringing from everyone, I couldn’t have handled much more. Alfie Allen effectively drove the anguish home with his blood curdling whimper-screams, and sniveling pleas to have the finger chopped off; I anticipate Allen’s adept acting in Game of Thrones will end up placing a major Hollywood blockbuster role or two at his feet in the coming years.

The King of the North’s military campaign proceeded down an increasingly slippery slope, however seemingly unbeknownst to Robb, who eagerly considered the successfully wagered terms with the Frey visitors – after a bit of good cop/bad cop interrogation against Edmure – to be a god send. It was difficult to miss the sinister tone that lined the voices of the Frey’s, and it definitely shouldn’t be disregarded yet. On top of this, Robb’s liege lord Roose Bolton exposed a disloyal tendency to his King in choosing to allow Jamie right of passage to King’s Landing instead of returning him as a captive to Robb as per-instruction. Brienne, draped in a suitably ridiculous pink dress, was not forgiven for her supposed treason’s quite so easily, it would appear that ‘befitting’ punishment will come into being for her next sunday.

vlcsnap-2013-05-06-09h46m58s147A splendid example of production design, and a superb shot color palette.

Kings Landing was unsurprisingly the hotspot for the narrative’s political intrigue. Tyrion and Cersei collected their frustrations – not just with one another, but with their fathers indignant insistence on their marriages to be – temporarily repairing their relationship before it inevitably crumbles into mutual disdain once again. Both Headey and Dinklage came out with gratifying performances, but what pleased me most in the scene was the subtly clever matching of the shot color palette with the topic of conversation. Cersei and Tyrion both wore pieces of red clothing, green was evident in the appearance of Cersei’s chair and a golden yellow was prominent in both the Lannister’s hair colors, and in a large part of the set design. These colors are dominant features on the Lannister and Tyrell banner devices.

Aiden Gillen delivered a fittingly devious, and almost frightening monologue as Littlefinger that accentuated his characters fearsome thirst for power, position and chaos, particularly in the depicting of the metaphorical climb of the chaos ladder as being ‘all there is.’ This monologue further reinforced the pessimistic, cynical overtone of the episode through the ample use of sound bridging to a shot of a weeping Sansa, as Littlefinger mocked those who place their hopes in the illusions of love and gods.

I personally embrace this harsh line the show is taking against romanticism for the larger part, because it gives Game of Thrones a distinct style that defines it as something bolder than your typical piece of high fantasy, forsaking the corny ideas of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, in exchange for a welcome sense of realism.


Final Rating: B+

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