Isn’t it helpful when reviews compare a new film to something you’ve previously seen? Lots of writers have something resembling a “if you liked that you’ll like this” feature. It’s impossible to keep constantly clued up so to find out Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is a real time saver.
Seriously though what about when those comparisons are technically true but grossly misleading? It’s not really constructive to recommend Pixar’s Cars to someone who liked the revving, neon lighting and cheerleaders of The Fast and the Furious. Black Swan and Step Up are both about dancing but poles apart. Forced similarities are far from enlightening.
Bear that in mind when I tell you Winter’s Bone is like Hot Fuzz. It’s set in a close knit rural community. It’s about crime. It turns out that all the locals are part of a sinister conspiracy to protect the “greater good”, covering up murder most foul. The police are dodgy and probably in on it. A few characters have “great big bushy beards”.
Things happen in Hot Fuzz though. Apart from the above similarities, which made me long for Pegg and Frost blowing Wells to bits, Winter’s Bone is Hot Fuzz’s complete opposite in tone, style and substance. There is not a single laugh in it. Instead of explosions and comical supermarket shootouts, we get moody trudging through woods and a drug dealing lumberjack casually smashing in a windscreen with an axe. Instead of Nick Frost pretending to stab himself in the eye we get sombre, faultless acting.
Winter’s Bone is arty and managed to get enough critics gushing to earn Oscar nominations. It’s beautifully shot, showcasing one of the faces of America rarely given an outing at the multiplex; a bleak, rough and timber strewn existence. We follow Ree, convincingly played by Jennifer Lawrence, on her mostly far from fruitful quest to find her meth cooking Dad, who has skipped bail, jeopardising the family home. She stalks about a neighbourhood dependent on nature, trekking through the crunchy undergrowth to have uninformative conversations with an assortment of stripy shirted chaps playing earthy music. Her walking about the place is almost like a mind blowing and oh so subtle metaphor for her struggle through social convention for the truth and justice.
This is a film that will delight a certain audience, whilst sending others into a coma. I fell somewhere between the two views, partially numbed by the pedestrian pace but appreciative of the acting and cinematography. The drama is always of the dreary variety, except for one harrowing and emotional scene. I will try to avoid spoilers, but up until this point Ree appeared to be hardened beyond her years and unattached to her fugitive father. When she’s asked to carry out a gruesome task no daughter should ever have to do (relating to the film’s title) we see that she is merely a brave child underneath it all, scraping by.
Unfortunately Winter’s Bone doesn’t have enough of these genuinely moving moments to be engaging. It is atmospheric and pretty in its own way. Some will think sunbeams of quality shine from its every orifice. But I’d rather watch something less pretentious. Give me the silly satire of narrow minded communities in Hot Fuzz any day.
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Where is the optimum position to sit in the cinema? Actually that question is better put as, where is your favourite place to sit? For we probably all have differing, individual preferences. There are those that like to sit at the back of everything; the bus, the classroom, the theatre. There are those of a nervous disposition who like to have their seats adjacent to the aisle. Personally I prefer to sit against the wall in the upper middle section, usually away from others with a decent sightline, like the lonely uninteresting enigma I am.
But then perhaps where you sit also depends on the company you’re keeping that evening. If you’re on a hot date, somewhere close to invisible in the depths of darkness at the back, but within thrilling proximity of the projector, is a must. If you’re on a cooler date a discrete but ordinary and satisfactory view is preferable. With friends you want to bag a whole row for yourselves and avoid separation.
I’m the sort of person that requires exceptional circumstances to tolerate lateness. If I’m in charge of some sort of trip my contingent will be there early, with time to spare. I’m only late if I’m not bothered about said event, or if I’m trying to appear nonchalant and lose track of time. My point is that I’ve never timed my arrival badly enough to have to sit in the very front row of the cinema.
Arriving to see Paul it seemed my friends and I had plumped for this unknown space, the very front row, in order to give the appearance of being social. Of course it’s not as if, as decent human beings, we were going to have satisfactory conversations in the middle of a film, but that’s beside the point. Half way through the trailers however a handful loped away from the group for better seats. Leaving me in the front row, with others too embarrassed to surrender and back out of a commitment. Great.
I was thus anticipating a couple of hours of awkward discomfort, followed by a sleepless night due to chronic neck pain. And months of costly chiropractic bills. Which result in my financial ruin. I would drop out of university due to the endless agony and money worries. I’d then lose my car and find myself marooned at home. Scratching my constantly irritated neck in the shower I would slip, crack my head open and start losing unhealthy amounts of blood. I’d manage to drag myself to where my car used to be, but then remember I didn’t have one and die in a messy heap on the drive. All because I sat in the very front row; repeatedly contorting my neck and twisting my head from side to side, as if I were watching tennis, in order to see what was going on in a scene.
Before the end of the trailers though, I was beginning to view my predicament as an exciting opportunity for fresh perspective on the movie experience. Firstly there was extensive, ample leg room. I nudged a friend and performed erratic, normally dangerous, kicking movements in the air to demonstrate this. Perhaps what truly opened my eyes to the perks of the front row however was the trailer to Your Highness. Yes it looked like it might have the potential to be an amusing spoof, but more importantly Natalie Portman’s scantily clad features were rendered larger than life. I mean it was better than 3D.
When Paul the alien first appeared he loomed out of the screen at me. Even prior to this as loveable duo Pegg and Frost wandered in awe around a Comic convention, my proximity meant I felt as part of the crowd as they did. In the opening scene the alien crash landing seemed to happen right in front of my face, maybe because it literally did. The money ploughed into 3D is all well and good; but why not just make wider cinema screens with one endless front row, for the truly interactive experience?
Despite my obvious fascination with the novelty of my viewing position, I eventually lost myself in the film and forgot my surroundings. Because Paul is good enough to lose yourself in. I was really surprised by how much I liked it. Most critics have concluded it’s a poor offering from Pegg and Frost, far inferior to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Many thought that the marrying of American and British humour was uneasy and un-funny. I would agree that Hot Fuzz and Shaun are better films. But Paul is the most accessible movie this British comedy duo has ever made. It’s warm and affectionate and very, very funny at times.
I thought that far from hindering the film, the mix of American acting talent and humour with British comedy and perspective, gave this film something different, compared to the likes of Fuzz and Shaun. One minute you’d have a very British joke about tea, followed by some edgier comedy about creationism or physical, bumbling stuff from the pursuing FBI agents. None of it was groundbreaking but I laughed out loud several times. And there are some lovely touches for fans of sci-fi, with the appearance of a certain Ms Weaver and a recurring joke about the three tits given to a monster by Pegg’s illustrator.
There’s also a recurring gag about Pegg and Frost’s characters being a gay couple, which is nothing new to us Brits. Whilst this is predictable and not greatly funny, I didn’t find it an annoying recurrence but an endearing one. And if Paul has predictable moments it makes up for them with some really surprising twists at the end, even if they come alongside things you’ll see coming a mile off.
What about Paul himself then? Even for me, from my close up vantage point, the CGI looked pretty believable and flawless. I actually preferred Seth Rogen’s voice to Seth Rogen’s voice plus his body. As funny as he is he can also be irritating. I loved the concept of an alien influencing and absorbing our culture and it allowed lots of sci-fi related, more sophisticated gags alongside the obvious visual ones. Paul even mimics Rose hilariously from Titanic as Pegg draws him. I found Frost’s standard performance of a pathetic loser more touching in Paul than any other Pegg/Frost film, because of the way he can bond with both Rogen’s voice and the CGI Paul’s mannerisms. Pegg was the most impressive thing about the recent Burke and Hare, but here his acting is rather one dimensional and generic.
A supporting cast of Yanks including Jason Bateman and Glee’s Jane Lynch add flavour to the mix. But overall Paul is rather simple. This doesn’t make it bad. There is great to joy be found in the comic delivery of Pegg and Frost, and the fusing of thoroughly British funnies with American reactions in an American setting. The final, ordinary line of the film, hilariously delivered by Frost, sums up Paul: “That was good wasn’t it”.
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