Films I Saw This Week (17/08/2015)
Welcome to Me (2015)
As a mentally ill lottery winner who buys airtime for her own TV show, Kristen Wiig gives one of the best performances of her career. Equal parts pathetic and sympathetic, Wiig nails the fast/loose talking, narcissistic side of Borderline Personality Disorders. Unfortunately, the film never quite lives up to her performance. Shira Piven’s black comedy is entertaining and has a few memorable moments, but struggles to find the right tone, flitting between whacky comedy and dark drama. Though the ending is genuinely quite moving and the supporting cast (Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley, James Marsden, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins) are fun if underused, Welcome to Me isn’t as successful as it should have been.
Mike Leigh’s least cuddly, most hostile film. As Johnny, an unemployed, nihilistic young man with plenty of knowledge and no personal skills, David Thewlis gives one of the greatest performances of all time. It’s a performance that gets under the skin, Thewlis living and breathing the role (born out of lots of workshopping and improvisation). With little plot, Naked functions as a series of darkly comic sketches, as Johnny hurts, betrays or just generally winds up everyone he meets. At over two hours, Naked runs too long, but its razor sharp dialogue, gorgeously bleak cinematography and impeccable leading role make its one of Leigh’s greatest films to date.
Ask Me Anything (2014)
I really wanted to like Ask Me Anything more than I did. Allison Burnett’s teen drama tackles interesting topics (depression, teen pregnancy, mental illness) in a refreshing honest way, and its cast (future star Britt Robertson, kind but sinister Martin Sheen, Christian Slater acting like the last fifteen years never happened) are all pretty game. Sadly, Ask Me Anything never really gels, the first half disappointingly dull, the teen speak never full convincing. Mark this one down as an ‘interesting failure’. Bonus points for the ending, so strange and jarring it’s almost avant-garde.
In America (2003)
Jim Sheridan’s highly personal immigrant drama In America has been somewhat forgotten over the last decade. Unfairly, given it’s a hugely moving, warm, and dramatic story. After the death of their son, Irish couple Paddy Considine (terrific in his first big leading role) and Samantha Morton (deservedly Oscar nominated) move their two children (played by sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) to 1980’s New York City.
Highlighting the struggles of immigrants in the Big Apple (a sleazy apartment block, lack of jobs, lack of childcare), In America’s stroke of genius is to show the world through the eyes of Sarah Bolger’s older sister; even the most mundane moments are transformed into wonders, not least the first appearance of Oscar-nominated Djimon Honsou’s wild eyed painter. Occasionally melodramatic and slow it may be, but In America’s wonderful performances (Considine has rarely been better, Sarah Bolger gives an all-time great child performance) and lovely family portrait hits many right notes.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
Andy Serkis’ take on cult punk star Ian Dury is the perfect biopic performance; both a flawless impersonation (Serkis singing Billericay Dickie is eerily close to the real life recording) and a deeper look at what made the man tic. Closest in tone to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll uses a Blockheads performance to show fragments and flashes of Dury’s life, from troubled childhood spent suffering from polio in an institution to self-destructive musical career. Deliberately anarchic and scrappy, the film is often too quick and its supporting cast underdeveloped, but Serkis gives a truly outstanding performance, carrying the film from good to greatness.
Monster’s Ball (2002)
Almost unbearably harsh and brutal, Marc Forster’s strange Southern drama is one of the most upsetting cinematic experiences I can remember. Billy Bob Thornton is very good as the racist prison guard who finds himself getting involved with the wife (Oscar winner Halle Berry) of an African-American (Sean Combs) recently executed on Death Row. A film of immense pain and suffering, Monster’s Ball does offer an interesting take on love and dependence on others, and has consistent performances across the board (Combs is surprisingly good as the simple minded convict, Heath Ledger is intense as you’d expect)). Monster’s Ball is not an easy watch, but stick with it and you’ll find a moving, original romance within.
The second Kristen Wiig film reviewed this week and better than Welcome to Me is Paul Feig’s hugely successful Bridesmaids. That rare beast, a true game changer, the film which proved to Hollywood that women could be as funny as the men. Most of Bridesmaids’ success is down to Wiig, both for writing the hilarious script and giving a great performance as a failing thirty-something invited to be maid of honour at her best friend Maya Rudolph (far better than most of the roles she lands)’s wedding. Competing with rich housewife Rose Byrne, Wiig is one of the cinema’s most likable trainwrecks; giving the bridal party food poisoning in a dress shop, awkwardly wooing a traffic cop (Chris O’Dowd) and accidentally getting high on a flight to Vegas. Though like most Judd Apatow-produced comedies Bridesmaids is much longer than it needs to be (very few comedies should be two hours or more), it’s still one of the funniest comedies of the last five years.
Akira Kurosawa’s classic tale of a dying bureaucrat (Takashi Shimura, deeply affecting as a man realising he’s wasted his life) trying to build a playground still has the power to move you over sixty years on. Kurosawa may be best known for his samurai films, but Ikiru is proof of his versatility as a writer-director. Though Ikiru has aged slightly now (the first half moves at a snail’s pace, and the final third is a bold directorial move that isn’t quite as enjoyable as what’s come before), no amount of aging can decay its heart. A hopeful and humane film, Ikiru is never less than stirring.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: Films I Saw This Week
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