Month: April 2016

Adult Life Skills (2016)

Written for RAF News April 2016

Stitched together from parts of writer director Rachel Tunnard’s life, save for the serious parts, Adult Life Skills is a piece of handcrafted whimsy that has heart and a whole lot of gags – that most of them don’t land doesn’t detract from its Northern charm.

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This low budget English film follows Anna (Jodie Whittaker) on the brink of turning thirty but still living at home with her mum (Lorraine Ashbourne), well almost – living in a shed at the bottom of the garden. This is her hideaway, adorned with pun-based signage (Right Shed Fred, Shed Zeppelin) and pictures of Patrick Swayze, where she makes internet videos of her thumbs for no-one but herself.

From her bobble-hat, bmx and back-pack it is clear that Anna is stuck in adolescence. She longs for the company of her deceased twin brother, and refuses to take life seriously without him. Anna remains a lonesome teenager and it is only when an old school friend (Rachael Deering) comes to visit, and as she spends more time with an outcast neighbourhood kid with an equalled sense of alienation (newcomer Ozzy Myers), that the full extent of her grief comes into focus.

Beneath her quirks Anna is shown to be stubborn, defensive and full of rage, which is well captured by Whittaker. The film comes off as a bit too cute and reaches too far for it’s dramatic moments- it is only in the fleeting moments with over-looked love interest, the soft-voiced but definitely not gay Brendan (Brett Goldstein), that the awkward comedy works. The funniest back and forth though, occurs between the crudely penned faces on Anna’s thumbs.

Adult Life Skills has charm but it feels empty and unrealistic, like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl but hollow and without the pathos. It employs the same staples of the indie-twee and ends up as nothing special, but it’s hard to dislike – a low budget effort from some female voices that deserves to be supported.

One thumb up, and the other eternally depressed.

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While some actors are typecast or have roles written for them based on something they do well – like Sam Rockwell dancing, Al Pacino shouting or McConaughey getting his tits out – some actors have traits or quirks that seem to resurface time and again through different characters, blurring the line between the the actors themselves and the people they are pretending to be.

This becomes a strange paradox when escaping into the world of a film, like a little fourth-wall-breaking nod that clues you in, a Wilhelm scream to those in the know, but ultimately a hurdle to escapism. You are already having to forget that you are watching an actor pretend to be a character, but how can you while they remind you of the fact.

Eating is a strange one. The character is hungry, the actor is not. Or maybe they were before the first take. It’s kind of unnatural and yet it is an automatic function.

In his debut Primer, the unsettlingly brilliant Shane Carruth who wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored and starred in the film, also cast his friends. In directing non-actors he found that having them eat something during the scene prevented stilted, awkward takes. It taps into the automatic function and makes it more realistic, more human.

It’s interesting still to see characters that are defined by the manner in which the eat – take for instance Adele from Blue Is The Warmest Colour who eats like a fucking slob, but she is sexy, carefree and French so it makes her louche.

Some of these compilations are surely just based on coincidence considering the sheer amount of films they have acted in. But in other cases it’s just too perfect. Does Denzel improvise with his dialogue – bringing out the same confidence-inspiring turn of phrase in whichever film he happens to be starring in?

These reoccurring traits surely impinge on your idea of the character – and show that it’s not so simple to separate them from the actors portraying them. It’s for this reason that I find it easier to believe actors that I’ve never seen before, easier to suspend disbelief when you know less of their work or less about their own lives. I think ideally actors should work once and then be forced to live in obscurity on an island somewhere…

But then again some actors bring with them the weight of their public persona (Tom Crusie’s Frank TJ Mackey) or their previous performances, building off of them, or playing off of them.

Then there’s William H Macy.

What the fuck do I know.

The Absent One (2016)

Written for RAF News April 2016

A young woman who has been missing for years may be the only key to solving a case that has long been buried. The Absent One is the second in a series of crime novel adaptations, and another in a long line of brutally uncompromising thrillers, to be exported from Denmark featuring rape, revenge and corruption at the core.

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The double homicide of twin siblings in 1994 resurfaces due to the victims’ father killing himself 20 years later. This is not long after he had warned the new police inspector of Department Q that all is not as it seems. With this death weighing down on his conscience the ever-serious Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) reopens the investigation despite already being swamped in unsolved murders, and despite the fact that someone had already confessed and served time for the murder in question.

The cold cases team consists of Syria born Assad, red-haired Rose – who is more of a silent guiding force than a secretary – and headed by the permanently furrowed brow of Carl Mørck, whose strong features and stoic attitude strangely enough reminds of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is late into the film before we are offered any insight into the character of Mørck, but it is done with great finesse and performed perfectly by Kaas, as we discover his drive to help those who need him.

The teams only lead is a call made by a young and petrified Kimmie Larson (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina) back in 1994, informing them of the murder in darkly cryptic poetry – they must find her and learn all that they can about this dark history, and about the company that she kept at her elite boarding school.

The Absent One is a detective story but told from all perspectives, jumping between the past and the present, which leaves the film intentionally disjointed.With its scarcely lit noir style the story feels familiar and yet these Nordic thrillers still find ways of pushing the envelope and creating uncomfortably dark scenes. These flourishes and the honed, sleek style don’t so much reinvent the genre but they keep it interesting.

Despite the Falling Snow (2016)

Written for RAF News April 2016

Taking place during the height of the Cold War, Despite the Falling Snow follows the relationship between rising Soviet politician Alexander Ivanov (Sam Reid) and the new love of his life Katya (Rebecca Ferguson), an entrancingly seductive Russian spy who gets a little closer than she intends to, falling for her target and jeopardising her mission.

This story is intercut with Alexander decades later in New York, now played with authoritative command in Charles Dance, as his niece Lauren (also played by Rebecca Ferguson) plans a trip to Moscow to exhibit some of her political artwork including a portrait of the woman who shares her likeness. Here she will end up uncovering some of her uncle’s past, finding herself tangled up in the same web of lies and deception, before finding the truth of what happened to Katya back in 1959.

Adapting her best-selling novel for the screen and directing herself, Shamim Sarif brings sensitivity and tenderness to the relationship of Alexander and Katya. Particularly in the character of Alexander, played by Sam Reid as broad-shouldered and square jawed but gentle and naive. At first it seems like this doesn’t match the character at all, at least not how Charles Dance plays him later in life, but it becomes clear that this softness of touch is defining of Alexander’s sensibility and ultimately his undoing.

Perhaps down to the adaptation the dialogue is often clunky and unnatural, and though it can a sometimes feel like a television drama the story of these two lovers tied to opposing forces is compelling, with twists and turns in both timelines. The performances are befitting of their characters, especially a vodka-soaked cameo from Anthony Head which shouldn’t be missed.