Cultural Block
Jane Eyre (2011) Review

To get this out of the from the start, I hate the source material for this film and believe that Charlotte Bronte could not write a story to save her life, something that has made me very unpopular with female English lecturers. This is the latest adaptation of Bronte’s most famous work and stars Mia Wasikowska as the titular Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Rochester.

If there is any point, because I am sure almost everyone knows it, the story details the life of Jane Eyre from unwanted orphan to Mrs Reed (Sally Hawkins, who can do no wrong) through her school days (under the always fantastic Simon McBurney) until she becomes governess to Rochester’s illegitimate ward before falling in love with the lord of the manor.

So, with my personal massive caveat, let’s move on to the film itself. It is pretty mediocre. One of the few really intriguing moments in the book is the story of the phantom mad women in the attic, the first of its kind and an inspiration for many horrors and melodramas after, and yet in this version there is one creepy/jump moment before the great dénouement. Bertha is an essential part of the novel, from a thematic point of view, as her appearances or references are at moments of Jane’s  inner most turmoil, between her choice of heightened extreme foreign emotion, “the mad”, and the more reserved English countenance, “the sane”. The lack of continual Bertha moments means that the only real conflict of ideas is between the two central characters, which are played very well but are let down by poor dialogue.

The screenplay is written by Moira Buffini so the disjointed conversation is explained as this is the same writer of Tamara Drewe, last year’s clunky British comedy/Drama. There is one point early in the film when Jane complains about the constraints of her sex which is never really taken up strongly again, whilst there is no point where she rejects Rochester before her whole acceptance of him.

As far as the cast, they are the driving force behind the film. Fassbender and Wasikowska are terrific yet it is some of the supporting cast that really enhance the film, Judy Dench and Jamie Bell being the two proponents. It is incredibly picturesque, wide Northern and Anglian moors creating a barren landscape in comparison to the enclosed, flowered safety of Thornfield.

In the end, the problems are pretty much in the way they decided to promote the romance rather than the identity of the book, which feels to me like a point in futility as all tension is removed. It is not bad, just a lot shallower than it should have been.

Kill List - Review

It has been a pretty horror filled year so far, with the heights of Julia’s Eyes to the frankly hilarious The Roommate, and it has not finished with the Guillermo del Torro written Don’t be afraid of the Dark still to come. Into this mix is a small British production of less than £1 million.

The story concerns the trials of Jay, a former soldier in Iraq, his wife Shel and his best friend Gal. Jay has been out of work for eight months because of a back injury and the recession, so the pressures on home life are beginning to strain. At what can only be politely described as an awkward dinner party with Gal’s girlfriend Fiona, Jay is persuaded to return to work with Gal as contract killer. From taking on the job things take a decidedly odd turn, amongst which the targets seem to know who Jay is and are grateful for the chance to be killed by him.—v1tg

Kill List is a very distressing film and tough to watch at parts but not because of the gore and violence, of which a little goes a long way and shows how these effects should be used in horror films. Yet, it is the claustrophobic direction by Ben Wheatly and the high screeching Jim Williams score that really create the sense of dread and fear. The performances by the three central characters are excellent but Neil Maskell as Jay is gripping as he displays a man on the edge of reason and becoming uncontrollable.

A quick mention on the subject of music in horror movies as there has been three recent examples that could be termed “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Kill List is the good, visceral and atmosphere enhancing, the bad is Fright Night 3D which is more bombastic than really suitable, and the ugly is the Apollo 18 where the music is effectively a spoiler as anytime a shock is about to occur it has a prelude of a violin screech.

Though influences can be seen on Kill List it seems to cut a real new niche for itself, through the setting and the realism of the drama. If you have not flinched and gritted your teeth in order to get through the film, and if you don’t come out of the screening room demanding an explanation then you may be beyond help.  With Spanish horror as the best in the world at the moment, Kill List shows that there is life in British horror.

Ideal Cast List

Considering it has been “in production” for the past five years it will probably never meet the light of day, but here is my ideal cast list for the movie of the fantastic novel “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”. For those who have not read it, shame on you, the plot details the story of two magicians in 19th century alternative England, and a book that one Mr Neil Gaiman called it “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last 70 years”.

So the cast would be as follows:

Gilbert Norrell (one of the magicians): John Sessions.

Jonathan Strange (the other magician): Tom Hardy.

John Childermass (Norrell’s man of business): Sean Bean.

Henry Lecelles (a London gentleman, confidant of Norrell): Benedict Cumberbatch.

Christopher Drawlight (dandy, confidant of Norrell): Cillian Murphy.

Arrebella Strange (Mr Strange’s wife): Emma Stone

Sir Walter Pole (a London politicain): Alan Rickman.

Lady Pole (Sir Walter’s wife): Carey Mulligan.

Stephen Black (Sir Walter’s butler): Idris Elba.

John Secundus (a gentleman magician): Gary Oldman.

Mr Honeyfoot (a gentleman magician): Toby Jones.

Lord Wellington (look in a history book): Michael Fassbender.

The Gentleman with the Thistledown hair (a fairie): Andrew Garfield.

Vinculus (a vagabond magician): Andy Serkis.

This would probably be the most expensive cast list of all time, especially considering the adaptation will not involve them all in a long time. If they are clever they will create a trilogy from the three volumes, so for instance the role of wellington wouldnt be needed for the first or the third film.

Anyway that is my ideal cast. If I have forgotten anyone or there are suggestions for improvement please comment.

Friends with Benfefits - Review

The third film of its kind that has been released the last year means that the idea of friends just having a physical relationship has filled its quota twice over. Yet this one has a unique selling point, it is a post-modern romantic comedy, riffing on and paying tribute to all the romantic comedies, which is a shame as it only really spoofs on one film, "When Harry met Sally".

To quickly establish the plot, and stave off me bad mouthing the film, Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake break up with their significant others before they are introduced to each other. Timberlake, in Los Angeles, flies out to New York to meet head hunter Mila Kunis and takes a job with GQ. As he is pretty alone they strike up a friendship and one night, while she rehearses the stylised lines trashy rom-com on the DVD, they decide that they are perfectly capable of dealing with the physical enjoyment of sex without getting into the complicated torment of a relationship, but do they?

It would be churlish to say that I did not find the two hours more entertaining than many of the other comedies this year, that I did not think that Kunis and Timberlake have really good spark on screen and bounce of each other in a great way. I would be lying that for some parts of the film there was a smile on my face, though nothing like the one at the beginning of the film when I saw Emma Stone and my heart elated, and that there is something more than just a simply gross out comedy. And yet, there is a feeling that familiarity has bred contempt, not a large amount but a small insistent voice saying “there is nothing new on offer”.

Now, fact that it is this homage/slap down of the genre seems to let the film writers believe that they can get by on witty banter in manacled constraints of loads of other films, but as the homage/slap down description implies it cannot quite decide whether to ridicule everything about romantic comedies and the people who enjoy them or celebrating them as treasured possessions in the canon of cinema. It also falls into the large gaping hole that every film of its ilk has fallen into which is to have this very sudden change in the tone, where the comedy moments seem to disappear in favour of the Timberlake emotional storyline which I didn’t feel worked, and if anything clashed, with the rest of the film.

The best comparison I can make is with the television show Glee, as it has the same idea, pay homage to/bitch slap a certain genre in Glee's case the high school drama. What went wrong for me with it and the film was that it forgot it was an homage/satire of the genre and just repeated the same mistakes with no obvious exaggeration or criticism. What it is in the end is simply a remake of When Harry Met Sally for the iPhone generation, including a near copy of the Billy Crystal speech from the end of that film by Justin Timberlake. If you want something that is fun, engaging and has two really charismatic central performances, you might as well rent or buy When Harry Met Sally on DVD as it is cheaper.