cinema · GFF19

Film review: The Wedding Guest

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Acclaimed writer and director Michael Winterbottom is perhaps best known for his work in the comedy genre, but has stepped into a more abstruse field for his latest feature. The Wedding Guest is a mystery thriller set on a criminal’s journey between Pakistan and India. Armed with weaponry and a pile of fake IDs, Jay (Dev Patel) flies from Britain to track down bride-to-be Samira (Radhika Apte) ahead of her forthcoming nuptials. With unclear motives, he kidnaps the young woman in the dead of night, but the crepuscular job takes an unexpected turn.

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DVD

DVD review: Lion

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  In his directorial debut, Australian filmmaker Garth Davis brings an amazing true story to the cinematic stage with Lion, a stranger-than-fiction tale of a lost boy in India. The screenplay adapts the memoir entitled A Long Way Home written by Saroo Brierley, who is portrayed by Sunny Pawar initially and then Dev Patel as the story develops. At the age of five, caring Saroo wants to help his mother by providing in any way he can and after persuading his older brother Guddu (Abhisek Bharate) to let him accompany him to work, he falls asleep at a train station. When he awakens alone in the middle of the night, he searches for Guddu but drifts off again, this time on a train which takes him on a two day journey to Calcutta, almost a thousand miles from home. Twenty five years later, having been adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), Saroo tries to track down his biological family, using Google Earth as his map.

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DVD

DVD review: Chappie

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When South African science fiction filmmaker Neill Blomkamp burst onto the cinema scene with District 9 in 2009, he was hailed as one of the most promising directors in the industry. His mainstream follow-up was dystopian epic Elysium, which was met with a contrastingly frosty reception. Is he a one trick pony or was his second feature a mere hiccup in his path to further critical acclaim? His third film, titled ‘Chappie’ continues the sci-fi pattern and returns to Johannesburg, the setting of his debut. Set in a future where a robotic police force known as ‘scouts’ have been introduced to reduce high crime rates and regain order on the chaotic streets of Joburg, the narrative follows the inventor of these law enforcement machines, Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel. Against the orders of his boss Michelle (Sigourney Weaver) and angering office rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman), he tests his home-made AI program on a disused robot, his experiment resulting in the birth of Chappie, voiced by regular Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley. However, when he and Chappie are forced into forming an alliance with a local gang of criminals, the potential threat of his conception is unveiled. Can he raise his creation to fight crime rather than commit it?
  Like his previous efforts, the premise of Chappie is one with real promise and as a director, Blomkamp expresses his striking visual style which is well suited to the genre he continues to place himself in. The opening sequence sets the scene in a documentarian manner, much like District 9 did with footage of news channels and talking heads thrown together. The similarities with what we’ve seen from him before drives home his lack of creativity, and it is almost as if he is trying to redo his past films to improve them rather than attack a new idea with a fresh approach. The problems lie mainly in the heavy-handed storytelling as the story becomes cluttered with one-dimensional, motiveless characters. The triumphs in scientific achievement are glossed over by lazy montages more than once, with just a combination of one energy drink and taking off your glasses for a quick think resulting in the most significant of breakthroughs. When he finally arrives, the eponymous android is a joy to watch as he finds his robotic feet in the world but not enough screen time is spent between him and his beloved ‘maker’, which belittles the attempted father/son connection between the two when the conclusion nears.
  Dev Patel is probably the only actor who comes away unscathed from the project, making the best of the material he has to work with and maintaining his likeable image. Hugh Jackman’s character is given the back-story of a devoted, decorated military man but is quickly reduced to a snivelling snitch who carries around a rugby ball for the whole film as a symbol of his masculinity. The aforementioned thugs that try to take advantage of Deon’s intellect are weirdly played by South African rave-rap group Die Antwoord, going by the aliases Ninja and Yolandi both on-screen and off. Devoid of acting talent, their personality traits change drastically from scene to scene, and they appear far more interested in their distractingly fluorescent image and the promotion of their back catalogue, than adding any depth to their villainous alter-egos.
  For a film about intelligence, artificial or not, ‘Chappie’ is really rather dumb and the narrative shortcuts lessen the value and the impact of the initial idea, which is interesting in the first instance. As a filmmaker, Blomkamp has obvious strengths in building intelligent plot foundations and also in the way he directs and constructs big-budget action set pieces. We see signs of this in Chappie but the lethargic script proves to be his downfall. Surely now it’s time to draw the line under the man/machine sub-genre that he’s tried so desperately to master and move onto another strand of science-fiction. Director Alex Garland already topped his attempts in that area with the thought-provoking Ex Machina earlier this year. Not to be swayed from the field completely, Blomkamp is set to undertake the unenviable but nevertheless exciting challenge of directing the next chapter of the cult sci-fi horror Alien franchise. No pressure.

2.5stars

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DVD

DVD review: The Road Within

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After seeing the trailer for German film ‘Vincent Wants to Sea’ in 2010, Los Angeles-based writer and director Gren Wells was instantly inspired to do a US remake, and her version, titled ‘The Road Within’, screens at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. The indie drama explores how young adults manage their mental health disorders, and stars Robert Sheehan as Tourette’s sufferer Vincent who is sent to a behavioural facility following the death of his mother. Whilst trying to settle in, he meets OCD patient Alex (Dev Patel) and anorexic Marie (Zoë Kravitz), and they bond over the constant day-to-day struggles they encounter. When the three mixed-up teens embark on an ad hoc escapee adventure together, their road trip heads in the direction of self-discovery and living life to the fullest, in spite of their problems.
Continue reading this review at Fortitude Magazine!
Read my interview with director Gren Wells!
See the trailer:
Interviews

Writer/Director interview: Gren Wells – ‘We’re all weirdos. That’s why Breakfast Club is such a classic.’

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What do you get if you take someone with Tourette’s, an OCD sufferer and an anorexic and put them on a road trip together? You get new film, ‘The Road Within’, written and directed by Gren Wells. Taking on the complex roles of Vincent, Alex and Marie are Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoë Kravitz, and Gren Wells has kindly agreed to discuss the project, exclusively with Cinema Perspective. This is what she had to say…

‘The Road Within’ is a remake of German movie ‘Vincent Wants To Sea’. What was it about the original that compelled you into writing and directing an American version?
I saw the trailer for the original film on some random German trailer website – and I thought if they could put that much heart and humor into 2 minutes, then the movie had to be amazing. Shortly after I optioned it, the movie won the German Oscar for Best Film and Best Actor – so luckily I was right! At that point, the movie hadn’t been seen by many people outside of Germany but what struck me is how universal the message is. The movie is about young adults dealing with specific mental disorders (Tourette Syndrome, OCD and Anorexia) – but at its core, it’s about feeling different. And everyone can relate to that because we’re all different in some way. We’re all weirdos. That’s why Breakfast Club is such a classic – because everyone feels like an outsider at some point in their lives.
Did you face any cultural challenges in your reimagining of the project?
Not really because it’s a coming of age story about real people. Not real in the sense that it’s based on a true story – but real because people are dealing with these issues all over the world. Mental health awareness is a huge mandate of mine. It makes no sense to me that physical pain doesn’t have a stigma – but mental does. And that’s what people are relating to. We’ve now shown this film all over the world and audiences are all laughing, clapping and crying at the same moments because, though our exteriors might look different, the human spirit remains the same.
You’ve brought out three superb performances in Sheehan, Kravitz and Patel. What were they like to work with and can you tell us about the preparation for their roles, both mentally and physically?
Thank you! We had such a great time making this film. We felt an incredible responsibility to portray the disorders with authenticity and dignity. These issues are usually portrayed as the butt of a joke and I don’t think anyone has to right to laugh at someone else’s pain. But there’s a big difference between laughing at someone – and laughing with them. Laughter, by its very nature, is a release. It’s taking a breath. And it’s incredibly important to allow an audience to breath during a tense scene. My favorite films are ones in which you laugh and cry (James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols and John Hughes were masters of this) – so we all went into this knowing that it was going to be a delicate balance of pain and humor.
With Robert Sheehan, I knew the moment I met him that he was Vincent. He has such an amazing heightened energy – and Tourette’s is nothing if not high energy. [Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the sufferer has involuntary physical and guttural tics. Only about 10% of TS sufferers also have Coprolalia, which is where they curse and say inappropriate things.]
I knew Robert’s previous work so I knew he was extraordinarily talented – but the work he does in this film proves that he is one of the top young actors working today. He was fully committed to the role (we rehearsed for 6 months prior to shooting) and he never wavered. I moved him in with Jaxon Kramer, a young man with Tourette Syndrome so he could get the physical mannerisms right. And after a week or so, Jaxon and I said, ‘Great! Now forget everything you just learned.’ Because tics are specific to each person. So he had to find movements that worked for his body. And even though Robert’s tics were too big at that point, I never once told him to tone it down because I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious – and I knew he’d eventually find the right balance. And boy did he! Seriously, he’s just tremendous.

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With Dev Patel, I needed someone who could portray the arrogance and intense loneliness of Alex. Again, I was looking for a specific energy – more frantic than Vincent’s – because the OCD sufferers I interviewed all had it. Dev was initially scared of the role and turned it down but I hounded his manager until she finally sat us down together. And I convinced him that I would be there every step of the way – that I would not let him fail. It’s an incredibly brave performance because, on the page, Alex is unlikeable. He yells, he screams, he connives – but Dev has such a beautiful vulnerability behind his eyes that you can’t help but love Alex. We rehearsed for 3 months, figuring out the right obsessions, rituals and triggers for Alex. I think Dev absolutely nailed it and gives his best performance to date.
With Zoë Kravitz, I knew she was perfect for the role of Marie because she’s dangerous, sexy and unpredictable. The thing about Anorexia is that it makes you incredibly secretive and manipulative. I was Anorexic / Bulimic from age 15 – 21 and I remember putting on this really brave face – but inside I was terrified. So I needed someone who could pull off both sides of the coin. Plus, because an intense physical transformation would be necessary (Zoe eventually lost 20 pounds for the role), I needed someone who was strong enough emotionally to not fall victim to the disorder. Zoe had dealt with her own eating disorder issues in high school – but she spoke about it with such strength that I knew she could handle it. [Plus, I was watching her like a hawk.]
We hired her a dietician and a trainer and we went and spoke with numerous young women who were currently in the throes of the disorder. It was heartbreaking to see these women suffering – and just like in the film, you want to say, ‘Eat something!’ But it’s not that easy. Anorexia is a disease of the mind. So we were very careful to not glamorize this disorder – but we did need to show the reality of it. And the reality is that Anorexia has the highest death rate of all of the psychological disorders. Zoe knew this and felt it was imperative to bring this topic into the limelight.
And then with Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Patrick, I was just lucky that they said yes! Seriously, they’re both such pro’s and I feel honored to have worked with them.
Q. What has your experience been like in bringing the film across the pond to the UK, and to the Edinburgh International Film Festival?
Well, we haven’t shown the film yet but it’s incredibly flattering to have our UK premiere here! The Edinburgh Film Festival has such a renowned history for programming interesting, thought-provoking and challenging films, so I can’t wait to see how audiences respond!
Q. What’s next for you as a writer or director? Do you have any new films in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I actually just signed on to direct my next film! It’s about a female Marine who gets both legs shot off in Afghanistan and ends up having to go back to the place she was running from to begin with… her home town and her family. So it’s a beautiful father / daughter reconciliation story, set against the backdrop veteran’s affairs. I can’t wait!!!!
‘The Road Within’ is showing at EIFF15 – read my review!
See the trailer: