Originally published at X-Media Online
My attendance of Campus Cinema began on Tuesday with Beginners, a film that begins with Ewan McGregor’s Oliver beginning to get over the death of his father. He really is still in the early stages of progressing through his grief though, as he spends much of the film in a melancholic mess. The hardships of ordinary bereavement are complicated by the fact that his beloved Dad finally came out of the closet in his final years, all guns blazing, following the death of Oliver’s mother from cancer. This is a story rich in uncertain identities and confusion, as well as poignant bonding and mutual understanding.
The most surprising thing about Beginners is how funny it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock, given that it’s essentially an unconventional rom com, but the laughs really do flow consistently at points. You’re never quite sure where the gags will jump out at you from. It could be McGregor’s dodgy impression of Sigmund Freud at a party; it could be particularly black humour in a deeply serious situation or simply the chemistry between accomplished actors delivering witty dialogue. The likes of Christopher Plummer, McGregor and Melanie Laurent from Inglorious Basterds make for a far from shabby cast.
There’s also some excellent visual humour that regularly appears in scenes out of the blue. Oliver’s father had a dog, Arthur, who is incredibly attached to members of the family, so that he wails and whines unbearably when parted from someone he trusts. Suitably cute and quirky subtitles to match his cuddly appearance flash up on screen occasionally to express his thoughts. There are also quite a few montages from Oliver’s childhood to set the scene and provide background information to characters and relationships.
I am not a fan of voiceover in film because it is usually executed woefully. However in Beginners McGregor’s reflective and self aware musings mostly come across as meaningful, adding depth to the story, especially when coupled with very distinctive still images. Oliver feels like the at once familiar and mysterious first person narrator to a novel we are watching, rather than the main character in a romantic film.
The downsides of this are that Beginners will be far too quirky for some to stomach. It wears its sentiments without shame, jumping willingly into boxes marked “indie” and “offbeat. It toys with ideas of minimalist storytelling, not just with slideshows of random pictures but with a wordless meeting between Oliver and his love interest. The recurring montage and voiceover sections give the time hopping narrative structure and symmetry but also a couple of false endings better than the one director Mark Mills eventually delivers.
Despite fizzling out somewhat Beginners features a touching, believable love story and avoids being overshadowed by the issue of an old man’s homosexuality at its heart. It asks smart questions in a unique and yes, quirky, way. Bravo Campus Cinema, even if the ads did promote Plymouth University!
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
I saw both Disney Pixar’s Up and the latest comic offering from Will Ferrell, The Other Guys this week. Needless to say these two films are poles apart in many ways, but they are also both funny, entertaining and worth a look.
Up first is Up, then. I was keen to see this simply for the renowned beauty of Pixar’s animation. I had absolutely loved the look and style of The Incredibles, a Pixar picture based upon ordinary humans as opposed to toys, or fish, or cars. I liked seeing ordinary suburban objects vividly rendered in marvellous colour, as well as the wonderful expressions upon a human, animated face. Up follows elderly widower Carl Fredricksen from the very ordinary start point of his home on a varied, beautiful, unpredictable adventure to South America. At first Up really does dwell on the perfection of its visuals, with a dialogue-less montage depicting Carl’s entire married life feeling like a work of art; a mini-film in itself showing off the talents of the team at Pixar. However as always with these films there are dollops of sentiment that wedge lumps firmly in the throat and bring tears to the eyes. As with The Incredibles the action sequences are also genuinely gripping and jolting as well as visually stunning. Perhaps most impressively these action set pieces fit into a unique and original story and don’t feel out of place. Carl steers his house, elevated by numerous multi-coloured helium balloons, all the way to Paradise Falls, the destination of his and his wife’s childhood dreams, negotiating bruising storms and encounters with strange creatures along the way.
For a children’s film, Up is incredibly touching and engaging. It is not surprising that the film is often funny given its intended tone and audience, but it is impressive that the gags roll alongside a heart-warming story of an elderly man looking for purpose in life and not expecting to find it. The whole thing uses the nostalgia of its central character and the soundtrack often sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear on a ride at a classic, retro fun fair, with clever variations on a repeated main theme for sad or happy, wondrous moods. The film rarely drags, despite there being few actually hilarious moments and this may be due to the overall gloss of the visuals, as well as some excellent voice acting. There is a point where you fear the narrative may fizzle out, but some superb climatic action sequences resurrect things. Overall Up is a tender tale, with some occasionally insightful dialogue and a healthy sprinkling of originally executed ideas, such as the stream of consciousness talking dogs. And of course it looks marvellous.
The Other Guys is not heart-warming and indeed relies more upon cringe inducing humour at times, but it shares with Up a feeling of originality in its storytelling, along with some riveting action scenes. For me the strongest point of The Other Guys was its ability not to take itself too seriously. It was simultaneously a cop movie, an action movie and a comedy movie, as well as aiming piss taking swipes at all these genres and more with some brilliant gags. I cannot usually tolerate the onscreen presence of Will Ferrell and I do my best to avoid his films like the plague. But alongside tough guy Mark Wahlberg, brilliantly embracing a comic role, and outside of a sports setting, I bought into the guy as a comic genius at times. I cannot remember all the successful jokes in the movie but amongst the best was a silent fight at a funeral, a hilarious, not at all subtle exchange about a mug with the label; “FBI-Female Body Inspector” and a “bad cop-bad cop” routine. All of these moments and more had me and others in the cinema laughing loudly.
Unusually for such a film the plot to The Other Guys doesn’t feel completely redundant either, which is an added bonus for a film brimming with hilarious moments and ensures it is something more than a collection of comedy sketches. Admittedly lingering flashbacks on both Wahlberg’s character mistakenly shooting a star baseball player and Ferrell’s college career as a pimp do feel a little like detached sketches, but all in all they just about masquerade as relevant back-story, especially when funny. The action sequences are either big, brash and completely ridiculous, as with the car chase at the beginning featuring “the guys”, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson. Or they are big, brash and slightly less ridiculous, vaguely fitting into the plot and wowing the audience, for example a climatic, clichéd gun fight is followed by a “grand theft auto” inspired car chase with an impressive, destructive collision. A somewhat baffling credit sequences detailing the excess and waste of the world’s bankers belatedly aims to give The Other Guys a moral compass. Steve Coogan’s amusing financial swindler was certainly not treated as some evil tycoon within the film, but simply as an idiot. In many ways The Other Guys is an idiotic film, which idiots and those who enjoy the mishaps of fools alike will be able to enjoy and find hilarious. However I think it’s a cleverly composed piece of stupidity.
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