Tag Archives: Marjane Satrapi

Owen’s 2015 In Film: Part 11 – No(tmanyfilms)vember

In the penultimate entry to Owen’s 2015 in review series that has been looking back on all of the movies he’s watched during each month of the year, he discusses a few of the films he’s seen in November.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

cg-buckle1If October was my busiest movie-watching month of the year, watching at least one horror film every single day, then November was something of a respite period. When I wasn’t writing stuff for my University assignments, then I was writing a new blog post every single day, or occasionally even finding time to review movies on here.

What I apparently didn’t find time for is actually watching more films. I think this past month is possibly the first time since around 2011 that I actually went four days in a row without watching anything at all. Not only did that happen once, but twice! What kind of behaviour is that for a man who supposedly runs a film podcast?

Although, some of that time that I didn’t spend watching films, I did spend productively. I appeared on the pilot of The Bottle Episode‘s new podcast, talking about my TV genealogy, which was a lot of fun. I also drove down to Wikishuffle HQ and interviewed Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman about their show and Best Comedy Podcast award, which you can watch on my YouTube channel.

Anyway. Back on topic, I suppose I better get on with discussing a few films that I’ve seen lately, starting with…

Week 1: Sunday 1 – Sunday 8 November 2015

Sunday – The Blair Witch Project (1999); Monday – The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Blair Witch Project (1999); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Batman (1966), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994); Saturday – Iris (2015), HUDSON HAWK (1991); Sunday – Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

hudson-01I’ve already moaned about this on the podcast, but I honestly don’t think I can fully portray just how bad I thought Hudson Hawk was. For those that don’t know, Bruce Willis plays a cat burglar recently released from prison, who is set up with a new job to steal various Da Vinci inventions from museums. Hidden in said items are special diamonds required to power an alchemy machine, turning lead into gold. I said it at the time and I stand by it now, even after the steam has stopped blowing from my ears, but Bruce Willis (credited as a story writer) is absolutely appalling in what is one of the worst movies I have seen all year. Possibly even ever. From the eye-rollingly bad premise that’s too absurd to contemplate, to the lamentable performances and sickeningly smug comedy skits, it’s just horrendous. I’m sure it was probably a lot of fun to make, as Danny Aiello, Richard E Grant, Andie MacDowell etc all seem to be enjoying themselves in what I think is supposed to be a throwback to old fashioned goofball comedy capers; it just doesn’t translate into anything even remotely associated with the word “fun” for the viewer. It’s definitely one to avoid.

Week 2: Monday 9 – Sunday 15 November 2015

Monday – He Named Me Malala (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Green Butchers (2003)

2a9435Going right back to where this blog series all started with last October’s Horrorble Month, where I watched one horror film every day in the build up to Halloween, the very first review I wrote was for Witchfinder General. I don’t remember when I first watched Michael Reeves’s English folk-horror, starring Vincent Price as the infamous Matthew Hopkins. What I do remember is that it was then – and still is now – one of my favourite horror films of all time. It might possibly have been my first introduction to Price, kick-starting my love-affair with his movies. It’s atmospheric, dark and uncomfortable to watch as you might expect. Whether it’s because the charismatic witchfinder himself is asserting his influence to sexually assault and murder women, or from the sheer brutality of the violence, it’s a chilling historical drama. I think this time around, one thing struck me more than any other, which was the fact that you never understand Hopkins’ motivation for doing what he does. Not properly. You don’t know whether or not he believes he’s actually on a mission from God, or if he’s just a sadistic killer who is after fame and fortune. It’s odd that I’ve never really noticed that before. It seemed like a glaring omission at first, but the more I thought about it, the more clever I thought it was. Hopkins (the real Hopkins who was responsible for around 60% (nearly 300) of ALL the women killed in the 17th century accused of witchcraft) was a monster. Leaving the film character’s motivations as clouded as the real man’s were, it’s entirely fitting. And, more to the point, doesn’t matter. Price’s subtleties in the role are more than enough to keep you interested in the character – and again, credit to the young director for winning Price’s respect and forcing him to tone down his occasional tendency to perform with a certain… vivaciousness. Excuse the plug for a moment, but I wrote up a piece on Witchfinder General for my blog, Films As News, which you can read here.

Week 3: Monday 16– Sunday 22 November 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – THE VOICES (2015); Saturday – X-Men: First Class (2011); Sunday – Don’t Look Now (1973)

The-Voices-01-GQ-10Mar15_rex_b_813x494I think I owe Callum a certain degree of gratitude for being so insistent earlier this year that The Voices was one of the best films of 2015. If it wasn’t for his continuous recommendations for this psychological horror comedy, starring Ryan Reynolds as a delusional psychopath whose dog and cat talk to him (both of which are voiced by Reynolds), it might have passed me by entirely. As it happens, I’m inclined to agree with his assertion that it genuinely may be one of the most underrated gems of the entire year so far. It’s almost guaranteed to make my top 10 list when I submit it for the Failed Critics Awards (ahem, please vote in them this year as soon as you’re done with reading this article!). As Callum also pointed out in his review, to say too much about The Voices would be to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. Suffice to say, it’s a plot that escalates in its complexities as Reynolds’ character, Jerry, stops taking his meds. Whilst I’m positive there’s a message behind the film about not-so-much perhaps mental illness and how it affects people, but more about a general social conscience and how we, the mentally well, perceive them, the mentally unwell. With Jerry more contented to live in a fantasy world as it makes his grim situation more easy to digest, there’s a sadness in what feels like an uncomfortable truth. Marjane Satrapi deserves to take credit for the way she portrays Jerry’s dreamlike existence with its vibrant colours that fade or get stronger, depending on what stage his mental wellbeing is at, but I also think that Michael R Perry’s script is incredibly detailed and it just seems like the perfect combination of style and substance that’s so very rare. So if Callum’s recommendation wasn’t strong enough for you, let me add my weight behind it too. Go see it! It’s on UK Netflix right now so you have no excuses. Unless you don’t subscribe to Netflix, I guess.

Week 4: Monday 23 – Monday 30 November 2015

Monday – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Event Horizon (1997); Friday – The Warriors (1979), Zardoz (1974); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Force Majeure (2015); Monday – Cartel Land (2015), THE COMEDIAN’S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL (2016)

James-bombing-on-stageI’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games again. I made my feelings quite clear on the podcast that week that it’s just not a series of films I’ve particularly enjoyed. In fact, I am struggling to think of a series of movies that I’ve invested so much time into and got so little out of with each passing entry in the series. Especially as I didn’t even enjoy the first bloody one! Instead, I’m going to talk about (and not review) a film that I went to see the test screening of in London that’s due for release sometime next year. It’s called The Comedian’s Guide To Survival and stars James Buckley (Jay from The Inbetweeners) as the struggling stand-up comedian, James Mullinger. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Mullinger is not only an actual professional comedian with his own TV show, but is also (and more importantly, I’m sure) the co-host of the first Failed Critics spin-off podcast, Underground Nights, along with Paul Field. The movie about his life (which he wrote along with director Mark Murphy) had an audience test screening that Paul, Carole and I went along to see at the Courthouse Hotel. It’s a bit weird going to see a film about the life of someone you kind-of know. Mostly, as Paul and I discussed on our way there, what happens if the film turns out to be.. well.. shit? Do you lie about it? Do you not say anything at all? As it turned out, it wasn’t an issue, because the film was thankfully very funny. With support from various British comedy actors such as Paul Kaye, Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap and so on, I think it could go on to be a success next year. Word of warning, though: don’t buy a round of drinks at Soho hotels. £28 for three drinks! What a rip off. (Cheers for that by the way, Carole. I’ll buy you one next time….)

And that’s it. Only one more of these to go that I will be scrabbling around to write in the following few weeks. If you’ve any thoughts about the reviews above, or if you disagree and want to tell me why I’m wrong, leave a comment in the box below or message me over on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you all in the new year!

The Voices

The Voices is tonally messy, sporadically funny, and more than a little uncomfortable… these are all very good things.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the voices 1Stop.  If I had my way, this review would consist solely of one sentence that reads “You should go and see The Voices immediately” and then you would go and do exactly that.  See, The Voices is a film that is most definitely not for everybody’s tastes but one of the main reasons why it was very much to my taste sort of constitutes a spoiler.  Further than that, I feel that the full impact of The Voices is best appreciated if you go in, not only with no plot knowledge, with no expectations or pre-conceptions.  Basically, you should really see The Voices.  I won’t tell you why, but you really, really should.

Unfortunately, this site requires a bit more critical reasoning in their film reviews than that.  So, this is your out.  After this paragraph, I will start talking about The Voices and why it is brilliant.  This will also involve spoiling a key plot point that occurs a little over half an hour into the movie but has been plastered all over the trailers anyway.  If you want to heed my advice, then stop reading and go and see The Voices.  Otherwise, we shall commence the act of reviewing in 3… 2…

I have made peace with the fact that Marjane Satrapi is never going to surpass Persepolis.  I mean, how can she?  Persepolis is practically an autobiography, and that kind of personal investment and candid openness in a project is something that one can’t really replicate after that first instance, especially when that instance is as emotionally draining as Persepolis is.  Therefore, at no point in this review will I be comparing The Voices to Persepolis.  They’re from the same director – well, co-director in Persepolis’ case – but they’re not in any way comparable to each other.  Well, also except for the fact that they’re both brilliant.

Yes, in stepping way out of her comfort zone – this is her first English-language feature and it’s a black as all hell horror dramedy hybrid – Marjane Satrapi has only gone and made quite possibly the best film that I have seen so far this year.  Folks, I adore The Voices.  From its opening sequence showcasing just how much of a rural dead-end nowhere that the film’s location, Milton, is, backed by an excessively jaunty theme tune for said town, to its self-consciously pathos-destroying and out-of-place final scene, this film had me in its vice-like grip and refused to let me go.  It’s about as consistent as its protagonist, but, dammit all, I was enthralled and left the cinema in high peppy spirits.

Who is the film’s protagonist?  That would be Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds), a man in his late-20s/early-30s who works at a bathtub factory and who just wants to fit in, be loved, and be kind to others.  Jerry, however, suffers from really bad schizophrenia that causes him to be very socially awkward and self-conscious, alienating most of his co-workers and especially his crush Fiona (Gemma Arterton), and, more importantly, to hold lengthy conversations with his pets.  The dog, Bosco, is basically a kindly and supportive cheerleader who tells Jerry everything he wants to hear; the cat, Mr. Whiskers, is the one that constantly re-enforces Jerry’s worst fears and anxieties, as well as filling his head with violent fantasies.  Jerry’s therapist (Jacki Weaver) would like for him to start taking his pills, but the pills reveal to Jerry just how lonely and miserable his life is which for him is even worse.

Then, one night, after a series of unfortunate events, Jerry accidentally stabs and then mercy kills Fiona.

From that scene on, The Voices reveals itself to be a serial killer – although whether Jerry will agree with Mr. Whiskers’ assessment that he likes killing and kill again forms the brunt of the movie’s conflict, the police waste no time in pegging their suspect as a “serial killer” – horror movie from the perspective of the serial killer.  Satrapi stages scenes like the accidental killing of Fiona near-indistinguishably from the real thing, but they gain a different tone and different lease of life thanks to re-focusing our point of view on the guy committing the killings and his inner struggle with reconciling whether he’s really a good or bad person.  Instead of having the tension be one-sided or even non-existent, every instance of Jerry digging himself deeper into his hole has sympathetic tension both for those caught up in it and Jerry himself, a sincerely likeable man who I just wanted to reach out and hug and tell him that everything will be fine.

Naturally, this all runs the risk of going very, very wrong.  For some viewers, it undoubtedly will have.  The tone lurches wildly and often without warning from horror, to comedy, to drama, to romance, to some combination of the lot and, although the inconsistency is sort of the point, this is not going to be to everyone’s tastes.  The actually funny moments are relatively rare and major laughs are near-non-existent, the film can be legitimately creepy and disturbing but it’s not exactly ‘scary’ in the traditional sense, the constant unease and fear over Jerry’s sanity undercuts any legitimately romantic sequences, and the constant whiplash between genres may dilute the drama for viewers who can’t keep up with or wrap their heads around the chaotic tonal shifts.

For me, this never happened, and for three specific reasons.  The first is that the script, from Michael R. Perry who also co-wrote Paranormal Activity 2, is rock solid.  The film has to pivot around Jerry and Perry never loses sight of Jerry and his inner conflict.  He never makes Jerry a monster simply for dramas-sake, there is always a deep-rooted character reason for anything that Jerry does, and he keeps Jerry somewhat sympathetic right up until the very end.  But he also doesn’t skimp out on the other cast members either, especially in the case of Jerry’s co-worker Lisa (an unreally adorable Anna Kendrick) whose relationship with Jerry forms another backbone throughout the film and gets a surprisingly emotional payoff thanks to Perry developing her just as much as he does Jerry.

The second is in Ryan Reynolds’ utterly outstanding performance as Jerry.  From the outset, Jerry is clearly… off, but not in the offensive or parodic way that such an idea runs the risk of being, and that’s because Reynolds gets the character.  Jerry is clearly different and a bit disturbed, but Reynolds never loses sight of the humanity and kind-hearted nature at the root of him, pitching his performance in such a way that that side of him is amplified or de-emphasised depending on whose point of view the scene is taking but never completely lost.  He’s clearly relishing the part, and especially having the time of his life providing the voices of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, which is what helps sell it.  There is not one trace of smugness or cockiness in his work here; he is Jerry and he is phenomenal.

And third is Marjane Satrapi’s direction.  Separate from her work here, those prior pluses could very quickly be turned into negatives.  The script’s tonal hot potato could have under or over-cooked certain aspects in a lesser director’s hands and caused the film to go completely off-the-rails, whilst Reynolds’ performance could have been totally squandered by a director who isn’t working in-sync with him and tried to force him into something he’s not.  Satrapi, however, wrangles the film’s various tonal shifts into something approaching some semblance of coherent, and seems to actively encourage Reynolds’ performance, building the core of the film around it.

She is also one hell of a visual stylist.  Such an observation shouldn’t be surprising for those that managed to watch or read Persepolis, but she throws herself, and her Production Designer, Udo Kramer, into the task of getting us into the head of Jerry through visual and stylistic cues.  Scenes are over-and-under-lit accordingly, alternately resembling a shiny sitcom set that is at least somewhat close to ‘normal’ and a dingy disrepaired hell-hole depending on Jerry’s state of mind.  A crime scene is set up like a fairy tale landscape, butterflies seem to follow Fiona wherever she goes, Milton itself is drowned in a sea of depressing greys.  There’s also a legitimately horrifying sequence when Jerry actually takes his meds that gains its uncomfortable nature through exceptional set design.  Satrapi’s dedication to telling the story just as much visually as she does everything else turns out to be the extra ingredient needed to make this film soar.

Again, make no mistake, this could have gone so, so wrong.  In fact, for many people, it probably will still have anyway.  The Voices really won’t be for everyone, its utterly schizophrenic and dark as hell nature will make sure of that.  For the people who do or can get with it, though?  Those people are in for a fantastic character study that’s visually dynamic, smartly written, impeccably acted, sometimes rather funny, and utterly weird.  It worked for me, I’ll tell you that, and right now it might be my favourite film of the year so far.  There’s plenty of time left in the year for other films to knock it from that perch, but I’ve got a very good feeling that I will still be thinking about this one long into 2015’s twilight days.

Callum Petch strikes up the band for one last stand.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!