Monday, October 31, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

PCMR Verdict: Stranger than fiction, this is an incredible tale of a man's journey through the world of street art, and how he transformed it forever.

PCMR Rating: 8/10

America has long been a fervent supporter of the culture of celebrity. Hollywood, with its fantastic promises of wealth beyond your dreams, a glamourous lifestyle, your name in lights, and a star in the walk of fame, this is the place above all that prizes the trappings of success, and unashamedly worships the successful individual. Remember when George Clooney was a fairly run-of-the-mill actor in ER, struggling to break into Hollywood movies? .. sometimes, with all the bright lights and facade of the entertainment business, it can be tough to remember a time when someone so iconic wasn't part of the glitterati.

It is strange to consider in the abstract, but celebrity culture is predicated on the fact that we reward individuals who entertain us, and when we find a Hollywood star we love, we reward them to a ludicrous degree. Movie actors especially are laughably overpaid, simply for providing us with a couple of hours of light entertainment once every couple of years. Here's a fact that might just ruin your day: Adam Sandler earned $50 million in 2010 for two movies: 'Just Go With It' and 'Jack and Jill'. Yup, 50 mill. And no, I didn't see them either.

Artists too, can enjoy this kind of incredible veneration for reaching the top of their game. Damien Hirst is another member of the 50 million club: in 2008, the asking price for his diamond-encrusted skull, entitled 'For The Love of God', was £50 million. In 2011, his work is a Red Hot Chilli Peppers album cover: he's a celebrity.

The thing is, when us mere mortals, inexpert and infrequent visitors to the artist's milieu, see stories of art like this, our instinctive reaction is to wonder: does the emperor actually have clothes on here? I mean, it's a nice looking skull, for sure. Ok, so he used diamonds worth $15 million to make it... but is that single act of artistic creativity worth a markup of £35 million to somebody? Really? And those animals cut in half, they're worth a fortune too? Really?

The achievements of artists are sometimes fanatically venerated, but these guys are often standing on the shoulders of giants, even copying shamelessly to the point of downright plagiarism, and this is one of the themes brilliantly explored by 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'.

Set against the backdrop of the world of street art, this documentary is surprising in its main target, given that initially it purports to be about the elusive, anonymous, but somehow eponymous street artist named Bansky. However, the documentary takes an excellent left turn early on, which I won't spoil, but I can at least tell you that it's not only about Banksy, and is all the better for it.

It's probably more fair to describe this documentary as the story of the film-maker, Thierry Guetta, and how his life changed once he started immersing himself in the world of street art, and ultimately came to know Banksy. There is an excellent sequence in the movie when Guetta shows Banksy the progress he has made on the documentary so far, and, tantalisingly, we get to see some of Guetta's original version of the documentary ourselves. The movie turns sharply after this point.

I can't say too much more at the risk of spoiling the experience for you, but if you have any interest in street art, the process of creativity, celebrity culture or the machine of consumerism, then you will find something to like in this documentary. I can't remember enjoying a documentary more, possibly since 'The King of Kong'. Unconditional recommendation from me.

The 40 Highest paid stars in Hollywood
Damien Hirst
Banksy's brilliant subversion of The Simpsons opening credits

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Beaver

PCMR Verdict: Hits its marks, and disappointingly manages to not be terrible. Knowing, off-beat, and featuring a solid central performance from Gibson, 'The Beaver' is a little bleak, and perhaps not quite as smart as it would like to be.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

PCMR has a well-honed sense of schadenfreude constantly at the ready, and so was really looking forward to watching 'The Beaver'. You see, in the last few weeks especially, I've been spoiled with a half dozen above average movies, so some gleeful hand-rubbing and knowing giggles accompanied the opening credits of 'The Beaver', Mel's first outing in front of the camera since 'Edge of Darkness' (No, I didn't see that either - Ed). Oh, did I mention that in this one, Mad Mel plays a manic depressive who speaks via a puppet? That's probably important...

So, with said schadenfreude in mind, I should also say that PCMR's Law of Movie Expectations is hard at work here. To explain, after seeing the bleak trailer, where a depressive Gibson voices his Beaver puppet with a mockney accent, I was cheerfully expecting a full-on car crash of a movie. The problem is, after seeing it, PCMR has to concede that 'The Beaver' is actually not completely awful. So, is it any good, or were my expectations just sufficiently low? Hmm, that's a more difficult question.

We don't need to dredge up Gibson's off-screen shenanigans again (google them - Ed), but safe to say, at the time The Beaver was shot, he wasn't exactly Hollywood's poster boy. However, PCMR has a feeling that all the negative stuff going on in Mel's life might have actually helped him portray this role of a manic depressive on the verge of jacking it all in: his performance is actually pretty good.

As the movie opens, Walter Black (Gibson) narrates a tale of woe. He's successful, with a beautiful house and a nice nuclear family, but is profoundly depressed, and just wants to sleep all the time. Black (ah, I see what they did there - Ed) has tried numerous therapies, but can't seem kick his middle-class first-world mid-life crisis.

At a low point, he finds a puppet in a skip (or as they're known in Hollywood, a dumpster) and picks it up on impulse. At an even lower point, Black begins to speak through the puppet, much to the initial horror of his family. Bizarrely though, it seems to give him a kick-start. The beaver is even a hit at the office, and his work life starts to pick up. His youngest son takes a shine to the beaver (ahem - Ed), and their relationship starts to improve as a result.

As the movie progresses, we also get to know Mel's wife, (Jodie Foster) and two sons (Anton Yelchin and another youngling). Yelchin's story in particular has parallels with his father's, as he sells ghost written essays for other kids in his high school. (Ah, communication problems, no voice of his own, eh? - Ed) Yelchin's character earnestly tries to avoid turning out like his apparently crazy dad, but as the movie progresses, his struggle seems more and more in vain.

These two narrative threads form the backbone of The Beaver. Mel's story is the more interesting of the two, and the first few beaver scenes are so bizarre, they're actually a little dark and knowingly comedic. Yelchin's story is relatively less satisfying, as it revolves around the writing of a graduation speech, which is a pretty heavy-handed device (and what, the puppet isn't!? - Ed).

But you know what? Despite its failings, 'The Beaver' isn't terrible. Black senior's genuine depression is deftly set alongside Junior's normal teen difficulties, putting both in their proper perspective. Mel Gibson's capable performance makes his character gradually more likeable as the movie progresses and for the most part, I was morbidly curious to see how it would play out.

It gets good marks for script and crazy Mel's fragile, honest performance. There's a good narrative thread, and the story is reasonably well put together. Unfortunately, the device of the Beaver does get a little tiresome, and you might struggle to sympathise with this guy who is doing extremely well for himself, despite his first world problems. The device of the graduation speech is also a little laboured, but perhaps not as cheesy as it could have been.

PCMR cannot wholeheartedly recommend that you seek out The Beaver, but it's not a complete train wreck, which is actually a little disappointing really... For a movie about depression, it's about as entertaining as you might expect.

Monday, October 03, 2011


PCMR Verdict: Three brilliant performances underpin what is at times an uncomfortably intimate tale of a bond between two lost souls. It's hard-hitting and hardcore, but never exploitative. Stunningly, it's Considine's first film.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

When PCMR heard that Paddy Considine had gone and directed a feature film, interest was registered. Then, after seeing the trailer before Tinker Tailor last week, curiosity was aroused. (Careful now - Ed). But after learning that the man himself would be coming to the IFI to chat about the movie after a preview screening, well.. the camel's back and all that.

You see, since the heady days of Paddy Chayevsky (the Paddy C who penned the line "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it any more") there just aren't that many Paddy C's out there making movies. (I think he might be the only one - Ed) So I did feel obliged to show some support and be a bum in a seat. Solidarity. That's all I'm saying.

Well, not quite all, a few words about 'Tyrannnosaur' would be appropriate first I guess. Right, well, 'Tyrannosaur' is Paddy C's feature-length directorial debut, but it's based on his short film 'Dog Altogether' which won a BAFTA no less, so the boy's certainly got some chops. After the movie, it was no great surprise to learn however, that he started out in life as a photographer. He certainly retains the photographer's eye, as he really fills each frame.

In 'Tyrannosaur', Peter Mullan - who is so good in this, he should really have the official prefix 'the incredible' - plays Joseph, angry, working-class, and down on his luck. Joseph seems to eke out a kind of survival on his council estate, but is never too far from violence. Put it this way, in the opening scene of the movie he kills his own dog, and things go downhill from there for a while. (wow - Ed)

Olivia Colman, who you might recognise from the excellent BBC Series 'Peep Show' plays Hanna, a middle-class charity shop assistant, who has a comfortable life in the suburbs, and an apparently unshakeable religious faith. Their first meeting is fractious, but she offers to pray for him, and shows him some unquestioned warmth for what must be his first time in a while. Falteringly, their relationship starts to develop.

Until, that is, Hanna's husband James - played powerfully by Eddie Marsan - gets wind of things. Things get pretty hardcore for a while around this point, and suddenly the relationship between Hanna and Joseph becomes more essential for both of them.

This film is powerful, and not for the faint-hearted. Olivia Colman is surprisingly effective in what is really the lead role, and this is genuinely as far from Peep Show as you can get. Peter Mullan, too, is just awesome as the coiled spring who doesn't understand his own anger, but who somehow meets this woman at exactly the right moment in his life.

It's a love story, but not a traditional boy-meets-girl type of deal, oh dear lord no. Mullan and Coleman's real achievement is to effortlessly portray the growing bond between these two people that seems to be made of something more permanent, something that exists outside of the events in the movie. Considine said he wanted the two characters to be like old soldiers at the end of the movie, and in PCMR's humble view, he achieved that.

A gritty tale of domestic violence might not be up everyone's street, but I'd urge you to seek it out in the cinema if you can get an opportunity. 'Tyrannosaur' is tough viewing at times, but it is also beautiful and has real heart behind it. It's a good story, well played and well told, and is an sure-footed debut for Considine. Also, considering it was made for less than a million quid, your tenner will actually make an impact on its box-office, and hopefully mean that Paddy C will get another run at the director's chair.

In the Q&A after the screening, Paddy Considine had an entertaining little chat-cum-interview with Jim Sheridan, who appeared to have seen the movie for the first time. PCMR was a little over-awed to be in proximity to greatness, but certainly had the opportunity to notice that Sheridan seemed genuinely impressed with 'Tyrannosaur'. And let's be honest, who are we to argue with Jim Sheridan!?

'Tyrannosaur' is showing in the IFI this month, here's the trailer.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


PCMR Verdict: The form over content rule applies here: it looks and sounds great, but ultimately is hollow and forgettable.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

You don't need to watch the E! network (the exclamation mark isn't a typo by the way) and you don't need to follow Perez Hilton on twitter to be aware of a rising star by the name of Ryan Gosling. In their words: he's, like, so hot right now. Gosling is very much in demand: his chiselled features are brooding on loads of posters in your local cinema at the moment, as he's currently starring in no less than three Hollywood productions that are all on release right now.

PCMR should probably first point out that this apparently sudden rise probably started about four years ago, with Half-Nelson. That was a great movie by the way, and earned Gosling a surprise, but deserving Oscar nomination. It seemed then that Gosling's future was assured, but after making a couple more movies ('Fracture', 'Lars and the Real Girl') he went on hiatus for a while. Since last year though, he's back for real, and now seems determined to be in every movie that gets released.

The first of his current trio on release, 'Crazy, Stupid Love' appears to be an American re-imagining of 'Love, Actually', but with more nudity. And where there's nudity, PCMR isn't too far away, so watch this space for more on that one. (For your own information, Gosling is the one in the trailer who is asked if he is photoshopped).

The second - 'The Ides Of March' - is a worthy political thriller, written and directed by George Clooney. This is one that will probably make some Oscar waves, maybe even for Gosling himself, so again watch this space for a review pretty soon.

And the third is this one, which I've just seen so can happily fill you in right away.

'Drive' is a stylish heist drama with great looks, but perhaps not too much going on behind the eyes. Gosling plays an unnamed L.A. resident, who drives professionally for the movies by day, and for gangsters by night. Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad) plays the Whistler to Gosling's Blade, so to speak: he's somehow taken him under his wing to work in his auto shop (so make that three jobs - Ed), in a kind of a father figure type deal. And he has a limp. (Hence the Whistler thing).

Irene (Carey Mulligan) is Gosling's neighbour, and he strikes up a relationship with her and her kid, even though her husband is about to get out of prison. This risk taken by Gosling's character is the event that kicks the action into gear. Once Irene's husband gets out, he's quickly required to do one last heist job to clear some debts with some less than savoury characters, and the driver finds himself drawn in... What do you think happens folks, reckon it all goes well?

The dialogue in Drive is sparse, and Gosling's scenes in particular are often punctuated with long silences, or smiles. He does have an undeniable charisma, and although I gave all this the benefit of the doubt at first, it soon got a little trying. The point of all these silences was seemingly to demonstrate his calming influence on Irene, which I guess makes sense, and these scenes were undeniably pretty to look at, with a great electro soundtrack in the background. It's probably damning though, that the best scenes featuring Gosling and Mulligan were the ones without any dialogue.

When the bad men appear, and things turn a little violent, the change in tone is sudden, and the violence is shocking. There are only two or three scenes of real violence, but this is very bloody ultra-violence, almost harking to Tarantino, or his Japanese manga influences in certain moments (there's one moment featuring a bullet and a hammer that is unpleasant to say the least).

So, it's a love story crossed with a heist, and when the body count starts to build up, it gets a little ultra-violent, Tarantino-ish even... what's not to like? Well the thing is, there just doesn't seem to be a heart to the movie. Events play out with panache, and the action unfolds with style, but I never really found myself rooting for anybody. Gosling's character in particular, never really tries to win over the audience. He doesn't have a name, which is supposed to make him mysterious, but is a device that has been overused. He wears a jacket that has a scorpion on the back, but when something is trying so hard to be cool, isn't that uncool!? The few driving scenes are certainly done extremely well, and generally make Gosling look good, but that aside, he doesn't really have any good dialogue, which makes it very difficult to warm to the character.

I haven't read the book that this is based on, so it's very possible that the movie is faithful to the source material. Director Nicholas Winding Refn has a good eye and the film certainly looks great. The soundtrack is also achingly cool, featuring French female vocalists crooning over synthesizers as as Gosling guns his motor around the L.A. nightscapes, reminding the viewer of Michael Mann's Collateral, or Miami Vice perhaps.

The problem is, 'Drive' is pretty, but also a little vacant. I enjoyed watching it, but found it a little too self-conscious to earn a glowing recommendation. The love story aspect lacked chemistry and the violence was shockingly brutal, but the few driving scenes were great. On balance however, it's the lack of likeable characters that really makes Drive difficult to fall in love with.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

PCMR Verdict: Solid, well-scripted, well-acted. You'll like it a lot, but you mightn't love it.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

Tomas Alfredson's 'Let The Right One In' was an unexpected treat for PCMR a few years back: one of those unhyped quality movies that earn the 'sleeper hit' moniker. A sleeper hit is a successful film that the pundits didn't see coming. In other words, while bloggers and fanboys were busy generating buzz, via masses of column inches and blog posts about the tiniest pre-production details of the 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' movie, Tomas Alfredson made and released one of the best movies of 2008, with nary a blogger trumpeting its arrival. (Not before they'd been to see it, at least).

Part of what made 'Let The Right One In' so good was an inscrutable period setting, which made it difficult for the audience to pin down exactly where and when the film was set. Also, the colour palette he puts up on screen is striking in it's blandness, its austerity. Finally, his characters do not always speak their minds, leaving it up to the audience to figure out motivations and reasoning for themselves.

These characteristics are all part of the DNA of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', the most recent adaptation of John Le Carré's spy thriller. Everything feels very 1970's London, although there are no orienting shots of Big Ben or subtitles on the screen to tell us this for certain. Even the scenes in flashback are not announced, with the device of a new pair of glasses for Gary Oldman's character - Smiley - subtly letting us know when we're in the past, and when we're looking at current events.

The catalyst for events in Tinker Tailor is the presence of a mole in the upper echelons of the British secret service. The alpha-male characters in the movie all have their own agendas to defend, and their actions are all open to interpretation. In the presence of so many potentially unreliable narrators, the audience are continually left guessing about who is telling the truth.

When a script and it's cast are as good as they are here, each interaction between the players becomes open to interpretation. The character actors here are all very capable, but also quite restrained, and to a man they are able to breathe real lives into their parts (Ooh, matron! - Ed)

Oldman plays against type as the understated Smiley, but he is ably supported by a supporting cast that can only be described as an embarassment of riches: John Hurt adds a touch of gravitas, Benedict Cumberbatch proves a striking presence, and Tom Hardy does a good turn, following on from his breakout role in Inception. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are effective as ever, as is Toby Jones - the poisoned dwarf - and the always solid Ciaran Hinds.

There's no doubting that Tinker Tailor is a very good movie. PCMR's reservations, reflected in my 7.5 rating, are mainly due to the movie's payoff sequence. The setup is excellent, tightly scripted and tense: there is a mole and here are all the players. By contrast, the payoff, where we identify the mole and see what happens next, fell a little flat for me.

That said, there is a lot to like, if not to love. It's a very solid trip to the flicks, and Tomas Alfredson's future is guaranteed.

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