Jul 21, 2012

I've Been Watching...

Here are some short(er) reviews of some of the films - new releases and otherwise - I've been watching lately.

16/7
The Five Year Engagement
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Now, I know you're all going to be massively shocked when I say this, so take a deep breath - I wasn't all that fond of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or its pseudo-sequel Get Him to the Greek, both were fine, but both also contributed to my general feeling that the Judd Apatow godfathered direction of modern Hollywood comedies is, perhaps, not for me.

The Five Year Engagement, whose title helpfully avoids the need for a synopsis, reunites the Sarah Marshall co-writing team of star Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, who last collaborated on this year's Muppets reboot. To say that this film doesn't meet those lofty standards is hardly a surprise, and nor is it much of a criticism, given The Muppets' status as one of the year's funniest, sweetest, and flat out best films.

Segel stars alongside Emily Blunt as the couple who have the titular relationship, having to constantly move their wedding due to her work commitments, to the point that they begin to wonder whether they are right for each other at all. The film gets a couple of things really right; first of all Segel and Blunt seem to make sense as a couple. Blunt is stunningly beautiful, but there's a down to earth sense about her that you don't get from, say, Angelina Jolie, who just screams MOVIE STAR. The fact that the chemistry works also means that we're somewhat invested in the relationship, unlike a lot of couples in recent movies these two seem actually to enjoy each other, and that makes them fun to be around and easy to root for. Another thing the script gets quite nicely is the obligatory end of second act break up, which doesn't arrive totally out of the blue, and thus has a bit of weight to it.

This is not to say that The Five Year Engagement is a drama, indeed both Segel and Blunt are funny, and the film surrounds them with amusing supporting players. Belly laughs may be few and far between here, but there are plenty of gags, and most do manage to raise a smile or a chuckle. Many of the best gags come from the supporting cast, with Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart (as a psychology researcher obsessed with theories on masturbation) all scoring laughs with small parts. However, the film is stolen by the adorable Alison Brie, who manages to nab all the biggest laughs and show off a very good English accent as Blunt's sister. The scene in which she describes the frustrations of her life as a housewife to Blunt in an Elmo voice so as not to upset her four year old is hilarious, adorable, and a little sad all at once.

At the end of the day, The Five Year Engagement is a solid rom-com, no more or less, but at least it's one with characters you like, a relationship you can root for, and some really good jokes. Those have been few and far between lately.



17/7
Ricky
Dir: Francois Ozon
Francois Ozon is, for my money, perhaps the greatest working director. With Ricky under my belt I've now seen every one of his features (Dans La Maison is yet to be released, but I expect to catch it at the London Film Festival), and most of his shorts. Of those 20 plus films I've been underwhelmed by one or two of the shorts, but everything else has been on a sliding scale from very very good to flat out brilliant. If anything might have tripped Ozon up it seemed likely to be this; the whimsical sounding story of a couple (Alexandra Lamy and Sergi Lopez) who have a baby who grows wings. Happily, Ozon doesn't slip, and Ricky is another fascinating, high quality film from this dazzlingly diverse director.

This may be Ozon's least auteurist film, it lacks many of his trademarks, notably any hint of gay themes or any scenes set on the beach, and yet as I watched Ricky, while I could see influences that were both surprising for Ozon and surprising for this story, it felt like it could only have come from this particular filmmaker.

Ozon's great idea here is to treat the story (at least until the last five minutes or so) as absolutely real. For the first half hour of this short film there is no Ricky, and instead we watch as a realist drama about factory worker Katie (Lamy) and her seven year old daughter Lisa (Melusine Mayance) as Lisa begins a new relationship with Paco (Lopez) and the three of them become a family. Ozon establishes a credible family situation here, and he's aided by extremely naturalistic work from his actors, who really work well as a unit, with Lamy and Lopez showing chemistry that convinces you about how fast their relationship progresses, and Mayance giving an impressively nuanced performance in a role that asks her to show some maturity, but still be very much a little kid.

This realistic approach carries over into the way Ricky's eventual abnormalities are dealt with. Ozon misdirects you through the gradual way they appear, emphasising the family drama side of the film, but once they do arrive he manages to combine the fantastical with the realistic, giving us a sense of how these wings operate. There's also time for some levity - an image of Ricky done up in an improvised crash suit is an amusing visual gag - but the film largely stays grounded in the reality of this family dealing with hiding and eventually the exposure of this remarkable baby.

One complaint I've heard about the film is that its ending doesn't work, which I agree with... if you take it at face value, and I don't. Ozon doesn't signpost it obviously, but I think you can read what seems like a rather sappy and neat ending as not being real. Either way, whatever you make of the last five minutes, the journey of the first eighty is so unusual, so beautifully acted, and so completely controlled by Ozon - here channelling a cuddlier Cronenberg by way of Ken Loach - that Ricky has to go down as one of his best and most intriguing works, which really is saying a lot.



18/7
Policewomen
Dir: Lee Frost
I've been wanting to see this film since I saw the trailer for it, which includes the deathlessly brilliant exploitation tagline "Police Women, fighting for survival with men who want them home and women who want them dead". Policewomen may not quite reach the unprecedented heights of badassery suggested by that line, but it's a good time for an exploitation fan like myself.

Director Lee Frost - who also made the utterly despicable Love Camp 7 - doesn't mess around; Policewomen moves fast from the off, opening with a jailbreak in which two women (one of them the gorgeous Blaxploitation actress Jeannie Bell) escape prison in order to join up with a gang of gold smugglers led by 70 year old Marge (Elizabeth Stuart) and her 30 year old bodybuilder boyfriend Doc (Phil Hoover). After the jailbreak the cops recruit a female officer, Lacy Bond (Sondra Currie, older sister of Runaways singer Cherie), to go undercover in the gang.

It's not the smartest film in the world, but it's also much better than your average B-Movie, thanks to a surprisingly solid cast. Currie is attractive, appealing and tough, combining those qualities to fine effect in a very funny sequence in which she accidentally beats he karate instructor up. The romance between her and her male partner serves little purpose but to provide Currie with a nude scene, but that's exploitation cinema for you. Jeannie Bell is a striking presence; beautiful and imposing in equal measure, she's convincing as an escaped con and as an undercover cop. The villains are fun, Elizabeth Stuart, in her only film role, is just the right side of over the top as little old gang leader Maude, and the way she emasculates her body builder lover is pretty amusing too.

It may not, like the best B-Movies, bear much analysis, and it may not exactly be PC, but Policewomen flows well, with action, comedy and exploitation beats all hit with satisfying regularity and a sense of fun and energy that proves engaging, with Currie's feisty performance anchoring the film well. For exploitation lovers it's well worth tracking down.

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