Thursday, December 13, 2012

British (and Danish!) movies in British Cinemas: Sightseers, The Hunt, and Skyfall

When I went to London for vacation, I sort of had it in the back of my mind that I'd like to see Skyfall while I was there - James Bond in his home territory, so to speak - but didn't actually have plans more more. Sure, I'd look to see what was playing there that wasn't likely to hit the US for a while/at all. I wound up staking out four movies - Gambit, The Hunt, Great Expectations, and Sightseers. Great Expectations didn't happen, but Sightseers was quite the pleasant surprise - having liked both of Ben Wheatley's previous films, being able to see this one well before its first US screenings at Sundance was a nice bonus.

I was also (pleasantly) surprised to see just how wide an opening it got in London, and what a push it seemed to be given: There were posters at every tube stop, while the Curzon Soho was filled with promotion for the movie. Sure, it's a home-grown picture, and I've really got no idea what the major distributors in the UK are and how well they usually do getting movies on screens, but... Well, it's a weird movie, even by dark-british-humour standards.

I also tend to get the impression that the screen churn in the UK is pretty fierce - Great Expectations seemed to lose a lot of showtimes between its 30 November opening date and when I left on 9 December. It seems due, at least in part, to the lack of multiplexes; the nearby site with the most screens seemed to be the Cineworld where I saw Sightseers, a six-plex. It seemed like a lot of places would open the same movie, and then attrition would happen based on how things performed in that neighborhood (heck, The Hunt was playing all over the place, although that seemed to be a deal between its distributor and the Curzon chain). Movies would open up with single off-peak showtimes in some places.

The theaters themselves were pretty nice, though. I certainly wouldn't mind if a place like the Curzon Soho opened somewhere in Cambridge; though the admission price was steep (£14.50 for an evening show, or $23.20 assuming a 1.6 exchange rate) - stupidly, I didn't realize I could use the London Pass there until a couple days later - the snack bar was moderately priced good stuff, and the bar/café/lounge areas were quite the nice places to wait. They offer memberships, too.

The BFI IMAX is apparently the UK's largest screen, and it's impressively big, maybe a little larger than the New England Aquarium's IMAX screen. I was running too late to really scope the amenities out, but it had a bar/café that was packed right up until it was time for the show to start, and though run by Odeon, it wasn't quite so self-service as the place where I saw Gambit. Like that theater, there was assigned seating, and they put me right next to a couple despite the whole row being open two minutes before showtime. I spent the movie in C17 rather than C18; hope they didn't mind.

More fun with concessions: They don't put ice in your soda unless you specifically ask for it, and the cheese dip used for nachos at the BFI IMAX was creamy and roughly seventy-four times as good as the hyper-processed yellow stuff American theaters use. American theaters: Get your act together on this! Also, you are offered a choice between "Salty" and "Sweet" when ordering your popcorn, and I mildly regret not trying the latter at some point, because what is that? Just popcorn with sugar on it?

Anyway, it turned out to be a fun and busy moviegoing week considering that you'd think I would have other new and different things to do.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 December 2012 in Cineworld Fullham Road #6 (first-run, digital)

Ben Wheatley's previous two films weren't everyone's cup of tea, and he hasn't exactly gone conventional with Sightseers. It's quite often as funny as it is twisted (or, perhaps, vice versa), overflowing with strange, messy, disturbing romantic comedy.

Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) are going on holiday after being together for a few months, despite the protestations of Tina's mother Carol (Eileen Davis). Odd, considering the pair are in their mid-thirties, but it comes as no surprise that neither has dated much; they've got that way about them. As much as Tina's the one who has seldom left her mother's side, Chris's outsized reaction to someone at the tram museum littering is the first hint that their caravan trip through minor tourist sites in the English countryside is going to be far out of the ordinary.

(Note for my fellow Americans: "caravan" is British for "camper" or "trailer".)

The term "dark comedy" covers a lot of ground, and Sightseers manages to walk most of it. It's one thing for the audience to laugh at something that is objectively horrible because the joke has been set up so well, and the movie does that often and well (often setting it up as the opposite of a joke). That's impressive, but perhaps the niftier trick is how Wheatley and co-writer/co-stars Lowe & Oram twist things so that the audience winds up seeing the road-trip/romantic comedy movie from a decidedly skewed perspective. The weird focus is funny, but not in a snarky, laugh-at-the-form sort of way. The filmmakers are very careful not to drift into parody or cool amorality.

Full review at EFC.

Jagten (The Hunt)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2012 in Curzon Soho #2 (first-run, digital)

One of the main characters in The Hunt (Jagten) is about five years old, and there are times when Thomas Vinterberg's movie almost seems aimed at her, explaining in clear detail why she should never tell a lie. It's not for pre-schoolers, of course; it's a grown-up movie about grown-up things. Vinterberg simply chooses to show how caprice and hysteria can ruin a good man's life rather than engage in it.

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is, almost unquestionably, a good man; only his ex-wife bears him any ill will. Formerly a teacher at a now-closed school, he works at a day-care center where the kids all love him. One is Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). In fact, Klara starts to get a little too attached, and when Lucas attempts to establish proper boundaries, Klara tells one of the other teachers that Lucas exposed himself to her.

Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindhom don't quite tell the story in a completely straight line - the point-of-view switches between Lucas and Klara during the first half with an occasional detour to Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), Lucas's coworker and potential girlfriend, and a fair amount of the second half puts Lucas's son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) front-and-center - but there's often a somewhat procedural feel to the movie. It's a "victim procedural" more than a "police procedural", with cops, lawyers, and other officials only rarely drifting through the scene, but a large part of what makes the movie an interesting watch is seeing how this sort of investigation works and where it goes wrong. It's like watching dominoes fall in slow motion as questions meant to bring out the truth sometimes seem to have the worst possible effect of planting misinformation in characters' minds.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 December 2012 in the BFI IMAX Theatre (first-run, digital Imax)

As I said seeing it a month ago, Skyfall is pretty terrific, a gorgeous action/adventure movie bookended by a pair of especially fantastic action sequences. The script is maybe not quite so great on second blush - a friend wants to know why Bond didn't hit the deck if he could hear M and Eve on the radio in the beginnning, but, hey, melee going on. SPOILERS! I'm more interested in why the heck Q plugged Silva's laptop into the network rather than not only disconnect it from everything but work on it in the tightest Faraday cage he could find.

That sort of thing is kind of the heart of the movie's problem - nobody in it is really good at his or her job. Bond goes to interrogate someone - dead before he can ask a question. The girl dies quickly. M - dead. Family estate and beautiful car - blown up. Spies' covers blown. I guess Kincaid did OK, but... !SRELIOPS

It's still a frequently thrilling adventure that's well more than I expected from Sam Mendes, and I like that it attacks the lack of sentimentality required of this sort of espionage head-on.

One last thing: By the time I saw this, I'd gotten just familiar enough with the Underground to laugh at how the train that Silva crashed apparently had no passengers despite it being the middle of the day and to notice, when the two got out of the tube afterward, that Silva exited via Embankment while Bond came up out of Westminster, and unless a lot more time passed than the movie implied, he actually should have beaten Silva to Parliament.

(Yes, I am nitpicking public transportation in this movie. I must admit, though, that I'm impressed that the producers actually used nearby stations)

1 comment:

MarkStephanis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.