Archive for November 2011
From the current issue of Clash.
50/50 writer Will Reiser was working on Da Ali G Show when he was struck by a succession of ailments. His colleagues, including his good friend Seth Rogen, put it down to stress or possibly hypochondria. “Our joke at work was, ‘We’re working this guy too hard, we’ve got to give him a break,’” laughs Rogen.
Eventually Reiser received a terminal diagnosis; “A lymphoma, or something like that,” guesses Rogen. Shortly after, it was discovered that he instead had a giant tumour growing along his spine. His survival chances were improved to a still less than promising 50/50. “There was no looking back from there because it was so exponentially more hopeful than the other version of it,” booms Rogen, his voice filling the room. “It’s funny because you know nothing about the medical world, but you’re like, ‘Oh they can cut out a fuckin’ tumour!’”
Reiser’s long road to recovery was assisted by his pal Rogen; a situation which inspired their film 50/50 which follows the stricken Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his insensitive yet supportive friend Kyle (Rogen). Adam battles on with regular life as best he can, while Kyle makes the most of Adam’s condition by using it to meet women in bars.
Reiser too maintained a normal life of work, dating and parties. “If you followed him around for a week, you wouldn’t know he had cancer. At any given moment the cancer felt like the third biggest problem going on in his life,” continues Rogen, his constant laughter at everything surely explaining his love of comedy. “Will was much more likely to complain about his girl problems than his tumour problems.”
Eventually the idea for the film was mooted. Rogen’s eyes light up at the memory. “We were at a bar while he was sick and we started joking about it. I remember the night because I actually met my wife at the same bar on the same night. A lot happened that night!”
A comedy about cancer is a hard sell, yet 50/50 is funny, sensitive and above all real enough to overcome the challenge. “People would always ask what we were doing next: ‘Oh, it’s this little comedy about cancer; our friend got cancer.’ And people thought it was insane! I think it’s only because we lived through it and saw that it was funny that made us think we should do it.”
From the current issue of Clash.
The modern world’s allergies to financial insecurity, mental illness and the planet’s ecological demise contribute to the concepts underpinning this taut psychological drama. Broadwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon leads with a captivating, haunted performance as Curtis, a seemingly normal family man whose visions of an apocalyptic storm threaten his domestic bliss. As he pursues increasingly drastic methods of protecting his household from the perceived threats (even the dog gets banished to the yard), a second unpleasant prospect emerges: are these visions premonitions or is Curtis far down the road to insanity?
Although occasionally ponderously inactive, Take Shelter slowly establishes a palpable suburban fear of losing all the constructs and joys of one’s life without having any sense of control over events to come. Devoted, angry, then plain confused, the underrated Shannon contributes possibly his best role yet; the world weary lines in his face emphasising the scale of his problems. Equally strong are the visual effects, with environmental catastrophes and black brooding clouds eliciting a dreadful discomfort.
The ambiguous foreclosure of Curtis’s dreams won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it provides plenty of thought beyond the confines of the cinema. This weather will wrench the spirit out of a man, or forge it into steel.
From the current issue of Clash.
The Australian arm of Warp Films makes a promising debut with this suffocating sketch of notorious serial killer John Bunting. Daniel
Henshall (Bunting) and Heath Ledger lookalike Lucas Pittaway (Jamie, an impressionable teenager groomed as Bunting’s underling) shine in their first major film roles: Henshall a maelstrom of sinister charisma and Jamie equal parts vulnerable and violent.
A murky sound design and the stop-start narrative makes certain events a little tough to follow, but this is an effective study of corrupted innocence. Snowtown fulfils its mission statement admirably, although the squalid atmosphere is challenging to engage with.
Promoted as the new Johnny Depp film, The Rum Diary has also been tipped as the new Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas given that they’re both based on books by Hunter S. Thompson. Yet fans of Withnail and I, it’s something perhaps more momentous: the new Bruce Robinson film. Given that prior to The Rum Diary, Robinson had helmed just two more movies, it’s no surprise that he hates the process. “When I got the word back that they were going to make it, I was thrilled,” he says of his fourth film. “However, when they asked me to direct it, I wasn’t, because I didn’t want to. After the last unmentionable film I directed [Jennifer Eight], I was really determined that I would never do it again.”
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be many similarities between The Rum Diary and Withnail and I. Seperated by almost a quarter of a decade, they’re actually closer than you would expect…
The central dynamic between both films’ lead characters is almost identical. Withnail is effectively doomed to his lifestyle, his addiction dictating his professional failings, while for the seemingly younger Marwood it’s a stage in his life that he can move on from. In The Rum Diary, Kemp is ultimately able to move on: his older pal Sala’s declining talent and love of the glamour of island life keep him rooted to Puerto Rico.
Both depict the end of an era. Withnail and I charts the final decline of the Sixties ideal before the Seventies delivered a darker decade. By the close of The Rum Diary, The San Juan Star has closed down and the peak of the island’s commercial development – and therefore the local high life – has passed.
Neither film has a nuanced female character. Amber Heard’s Chenault looks sensational and reiterates a sense of glamour, but we learn little about her character and she adds little of substance to the plot. Still, that’s serious character development when compared to the women in Withnail and I.
The dialogue is exuberantly funny. Withnail and I could well be the most quotable film of all time. The Rum Diary can’t really match it, but its use of comedy is also its greatest asset.
Booze. Withnail and Marwood enjoy every intoxicating drink known to man. Kemp, Sala and pretty much every other character drink to excess too, although their chosen poisons of rum and cocktails are more sophisticated choices than EVERYTHING.
Both films depict three separate classes, which isn’t especially common for comedies. Kemp finds himself in the upper-middle class of the island together with most of his associates at the newspaper. The islanders forced away from the private beach of Aaron Eckhart’s Sanderson are the underclass in a place ruled by an upper class of American investors. Withnail shares a similar class level to Kemp, although his personal decline seems to have moved him down a level from that of his wealthy uncle Monty to the point where there’s little separation between him, the “scrubbers” and “the wankers on the site.”
On several occasions, Johnny Depp pulls the same leering, lascivious drunk expression as Richard E. Grant did as Withnail. Still, if you’re going to be influenced by anyone, one of cinema’s greatest portraits of an alcoholic is a fine starting point.
“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.” Although Kemp’s ill-fated trip to the proposed development site of an idyllic local island is nowhere near as disasterous as Withnail and Marwood’s trip to the countryside.
Giovanni Ribisi’s Moberg and Ralph Brown’s Danny are effectively the same character. And they serve the same primary purpose as a comedy sidekick whose existence is even more extreme than the core characters.
Both share a rambling narrative direction. For all their strengths, neither film can claim to have an expertly crafted plot. Withnail’s is minimal – two alcoholics drink to excess in London, drink to excess on holiday in the Lake District and one takes a new direction upon returning to the capital – while almost every plot of The Rum Diary lacks focus.
The cinematography couldn’t be more different. Withnail and I’s squalid, retro atmosphere was captured with a grimy limited palette, while The Rum Diary bursts with the colours of a sunny, glamorous environ.
The Rum Diary is full of glamour. Flash cars, attractive women, ludicrous amounts of money, sunny beaches: it’s the epitome of the high life. The sole concessions to such an approach in Withnail and I were Monty’s ostentatious home and some very expensive bottles of wine.
The Rum Diary has a far broader collection of characters. Aside from those already mentioned, you’d struggle to recall any other character from Withnail and I – perhaps at a push you’d remember Michael Elphick’s Jake, a supremely unwelcoming local poacher. The Rum Diary’s supporting characters seem to have both screen time and contribute far more to the story.
Unsurprisingly, The Rum Diary hasn’t been a huge box office hit. Yet it’s undeniably a far more commercial proposition than Withnail and I was. Just examine the trailers. The Rum Diary: upbeat salsa music, stretches of beaches, Johnny Depp looking slick, jokes, fireworks, a carnival, flash cars, a diamond-encrusted tortoise, Amber Heard not wearing much. The Withnail and I trailer features an overweight middle-age man sipping wine, Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann drenched in rain, a randy bull and a dead fish.
Withnail and I is so funny that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. The Rum Diary is entertaining and worth a watch, but it’s unlikely to leave the same legacy.
From the current issue of Clash.
Purists beware: the screenplay to Sam Peckinpah’s original Straw Dogs didn’t contain a single reference to the Saw franchise. Truth be told, this reworking of the notorious 1971 movie isn’t too radical a departure. The action is transported from Cornwall to Mississippi, and our persecuted couple have new jobs; Amy (Kate Bosworth) is now a minor TV actress, albeit a huge star in the context of her hometown, while David (James Marsden) is a scriptwriter (only a scriptwriter could signify a sexy intellectualism by making a character a scriptwriter).
The tone, however, isn’t quite there. As the camera fetishes Bosworth’s body with lingering shots of her in short shorts, the film’s sexuality becomes glamorous rather than grimy, accentuated by lead agitator Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) hulking around like a mildly threatening character from a Twilight movie. The cinematography’s palette – now rich with the colours of a warm summer evening – only accentuates the issue.
It’s the reprised issues from the original that work best here; vigilantism, the battle between brain and brawn, the exploration of violence. Essentially adequate if flawed, a notably weakened remake is still by definition redundant. These sleeping Straw Dogs, it seems, should’ve been left to lie.