Safety Not Guaranteed – Sundance London Review

Sundance has come to London! We were excited when we heard the news, even though it felt a long way off at the time. Yet over a year later, the spiritual home of American indie cinema really has ventured out of Utah for four days in our capital, albeit in the Millennium Dome O2. This government white elephant turned massive marketing exercise is not a venue that fosters a feeling of independent filmaking and it was quickly evident that Sundance has heard this criticism a lot: during his introduction to Safety Not Guaranteed, festival director John Cooper declared that a lot of people had asked why the O2? He gestured at the gigantic (and Sky sponsored) screen behind him. “Look at this screen! Films look amazing on it and that makes filmmakers happy.” Which is all very well if you’re in the perfect seat but scant comfort when you’re craning up from the fourth row. Oh well, moving on, what about the film?

Before the screening, director Colin Trevorrow claimed that Safety Not Guaranteed is a film that embodies the spirit of American indie filmmaking. Describing the fight to get movie financing as an example of the American can-do attitude in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances, that same attitude is shown by one the story’s main characters. Which makes it a real Sundance film.

Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is your disaffected, wise-cracking cynic who is making no money interning at a magazine. When the above ad appears in the classifieds, one of the journalists, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) – cheekily lovable douche – pitches it as a potential story and takes Darius and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni) – socially-inadequate Asian nerd – to check it out. On arriving in the Washington coastal town that is their destination, Jeff sets off to track down an ex from when he was 18 and leaves the interns to do all the legwork. Through this they find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who apparently really is convinced he can travel back in time, and it’s up to Darius to get past his guard and dig out the real story. In a nice touch, during the post-film Q&A Trevorrow revealed that the original writer of the real classified ad appeared in a cameo role.

safety not guaranteed cast

Apart from Kenneth, who stands apart as a fascinating soul, you’ve seen these characters often, although with the slight twist that almost everyone acts as if they’re teenagers stuck in adult bodies. Which at one point I thought was going to be an actual plot twist in the naively sweet Kenneth’s case, so fixed is he on past slights and childhood traumas. But no. Regret has taken over all the characters to such an extent that their personalities all seem cemented in the past in some way. This is particularly evident in selfishly hedonistic Jeff, who appears determined to force Arnau into making the same mistakes he did.

While each character’s arc is disappointingly predictable, so are the film’s basic values – you know the ones:

  • No matter how smart you might be, to get the girl, you absolutely must play a musical instrument as well
  • To have a fulfilling life, get over your inhibitions and just get laid, it pretty much doesn’t matter who with
  • The lie that is the foundation for the situation you are in will be found out but will ultimately be forgiven if you feel bad enough about it
  • If you’re responsible enough to actually think about the consequences of your actions, you are the enemy of free-spirit and should be rejected

The premise is a fun and genuinely intriguing one and there are real laughs and touching moments but this low-budget HeKniSciFi brings few surprises. It’s a gentle narrative, smoothly put together so it was a surprise that the ending, with the most ineffective special agents I have ever seen on screen, was suddenly too clunky to bring any actual tension to the conclusion.

The whole piece is well-acted and Aubrey Plaza carries the film comfortably but charming as it can be, Safety Not Guaranteed is indie comedy drama by-the-numbers.

3 stars

Out Now – 27th April 2012

African Cats (limited release)
With the week’s sole big release already out in cinemas today is an odd collection of films including this documentary with a self-explanatory title.

Outside Bet (limited release)
80s set British comedy about a group of friends who spend their redundancy money on buying a racehorse in the hopes of making it rich.

Buck (limited release)
Documentary about acclaimed ‘horse whisperer’ Buck Brannaman. This really is an odd crop of films.

Damsels in Distress (limited release)
Whit Stillman hasn’t had a film released since 1998 and returns with a comedy about three women who change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus. I feel as though I should know who Whit Stillman is and as a result care more about this film and his return to film-making. Sadly this is not the case. It’s hard to get excited about any film not involving Elmo today.

The Monk (limited release)
In 17th century Madrid a monk becomes an acclaimed preacher before finding himself tested by temptation. Includes more nudity and violence that you might expect.

Strippers vs Werewolves (limited release)
Set in Essex of all places this film presumably includes exactly as much nudity and violence as you’d expect. Can it possibly be as fun as Zombie Strippers? No, nothing ever will be.

Albert Nobbs (limited release)
Amusingly titled period drama about a woman who is forced to pose as a man in order to be independent. This could well be a fantastic film but I find the image of Glenn Close as a man genuinely terrifying.

Being Elmo (limited release)
What looks to be an incredibly adorable and moving documentary focusses on Kevin Clash the man who created, portrays, and is Elmo. Check here for details of screenings across the UK.

388 Arletta Avenue (limited release)
Creepy stalker films a couple at home and at work before moving in for the kill…

Out Now – 26th April 2012

Bear with me. We all know I’ve been struggling with the title of today’s release. The only way I could make grammatical sense of Marvel Avengers Assemble was to try out a similar word configuration using another studio and its characters. For whatever reason (a childhood rich in animated joy) Disney Princesses Assemble was what sprang to mind and the above image naturally followed as a result. Can you believe I’m single?

Marvel Avengers Assemble
The film with six prequels finally arrives today and we get it a whole week before America. Take that Obama*! Joss Buffy Whedon brings us the film in which all of Marvel’s much-loved superheroes (and Hawkeye** with a pathetic looking bow) unite to fight some aliens as lead by Loki, Thor’s adoptive brother. This year’s first spandex-filled blockbuster looks like a lot of fun and with Whedon involved we’re guaranteed a quip for every explosion.

*I love you really, not least because of this
**I’ve not heard of him either

Audrey Tautou – Body Of Work

As you may have gathered from my review of Delicacy, I love Audrey Tautou. I am a long-time defender of her career as she is often wrongfully labelled as a typecast actress. Sure, she has starred in more romantic comedies than you’ve had hot croissants (unless you aren’t a big eater of hot croissants, in which case I don’t care what you think) but that doesn’t mean she plays the same role over and over.

Realizing that I haven’t watched as many Audrey Tautou films as I thought I had (but enough to know that she is one diverse lady) and finally getting fed up of seeing “if you liked Amelie, you’ll love this!” on anything to do with a Tautou film, I have decided to join Mild Concern editor, Tim’s “Body Of Work” quests and review as many Tautou’s films as I can get my hands on.

Although my initial reasons for reviewing Tautou’s catalogue of work were a tad cynical – I mean, who dedicates potentially millions of hours of their time to reviewing, just to prove a point to no one? – the undertaking of this effort is still more an act of love than one of smarm and I look forward to all the varied and probably-gorgeous films ahead.

Sadly not all of Audrey Tautou’s work is available to us here in the UK (I love the lady, but not enough to pay premium for imported DVDs whilst I am on the breadline!) so below is the list of films I will be reviewing where and when I can courtesy of my own DVD collection, borrowing from others and Lovefilm:

     Venus Beauty | Vénus beauté (institut)

     Happenstance | Le Battement d’ailes du papillon

     Amélie | Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

     God Is Great and I Am Not | Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite

     He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not | À la folie… pas du tout

     Pot Luck | L’Auberge espagnole

     Dirty Pretty Things

     A Very Long Engagement | Un long dimanche de fiançailles

     Russian Dolls – Pot Luck 2 | Les Poupées russes

     Hunting And Gathering | Ensemble, c’est tout (2006)

     The Da Vinci Code | Ron Howard’s Adventures Of Tom Hanks & Audrey Tautou

     Priceless | Hors de prix

     Coco Before Chanel |Coco avant Chanel

     Beautiful Lies | De vrais mensonges

     Delicacy | La délicatesse

    Thérèse D | Thérèse Desqueyroux

Finally, if you’re reading this Audrey, I look forward to a scented letter of appreciation for this endeavour and I await your invitation to a romantic evening together.

(Marvel[‘s]) (The) Avengers (Assemble)

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Juliet from Romeo and Juliet

“I’d sure hate to get a dozen Crapweeds for Valentine’s Day”
Marge Simpson from The Simpsons

Two very poignant lines as spoken by two of popular culture’s most ubiquitous female characters. Maybe the name of something doesn’t matter but it still would be nice to have a clear idea of what that name is. I’m looking at you Upcoming Superhero Film From Joss Whedon About Those Avengers Guys.

Back when it was announced that the UK would be getting an alternative title to America and everyone started calling the film Marvel Avengers Assemble I thought people were just being a little too literal in reading the logo from the poster (above). The title everyone kept repeating just sounded silly, surely that couldn’t the name of one of this year’s biggest releases? It’s time for another of my pointless investigations. Avengers Assemble or Marvel Avengers Assemble? Cue theme tune…

As in any such investigation my first port of call was IMDb, hallowed ground for any film fan, as was presented with precisely what I wanted; Avengers Assemble. Knowing better than to simply accept one source as gospel I double checked with the Film Distributors’ Association, they have to get it right. Sadly they offered up Marvel Avengers Assemble. Bugger.

With conflicting information I thought maybe the film’s official UK website would settle the matter but it was not that easy. They claim that the film is called Marvel’s Avengers Assemble adding an extra letter and some punctuation. Has the world gone insane!? There’s only one group who can settle this dispute, a team who legally have to get the film right. Time to check out the BBFC.

Marvel Avengers Assemble it is then. Confusion over.

Side-note: I thought it odd that the UK were getting the studio name tacked onto the start of the film’s title when the US were not. Then I checked out the MPAA’s website (they’re like the American version of the BBFC but less cuddly) and they list the film as Marvel’s The Avengers.


Delicacy – Review

The Mild Concern editors, Tim and Kat take to foreign cinema regularly. The closest I usually get to foreign films is when a non-American/Englishman directs a mainstream release. That said, any time a new Audrey Tautou film is released I’ll be there in the blink of an eye.

Sadly Tautou’s latest starring-film, Delicacy (or La Délicatesse if you will) has been hit with numerous reviews of mediocrity, it simply being shamed as a “been there, done that” flick. Sure, by French film standards it probably is nothing new but for those who don’t experience much European cinema it is an absolute delight – even if I did spend half of the film trying to stop myself from crying.

Based on the novel of the same name (written by the David half of the brother-directors of the film, Stéphane and David Foenkinos), Delicacy observes relationships idyllic and not so conventional when career-girl Nathalie’s (Tautou) world is destroyed by the untimely death of her husband. Three years later and still grieving she impulsively kisses workmate Markus (François Damiens) who is ugly even by European cinema’s standards. So begins the mostly funny, sometimes awkward, but always touching pseudo beauty-and-the-beast tale.

Packed with so much cheese that I’m sure Garry Marshall (Dir. Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve) had a heart attack of envy, Delicacy manages to actually steer away from all of the superficiality of the traditional (Hollywood-like) romantic comedy; its directors and acting ensemble huffing and puffing with genuine heart at making a film with as little fluff as possible. Of course, when Pez dispensers are love-gushing gifts and all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets are ironic romantic evenings the average cinemagoer probably wants to throw up, but Delicacy’s delicately (hur hur) handled sentimentality never feels artificial enough for us to stop believing in the story.

It’s a great effort from all involved, and the chemistry that the film’s plot demands of its cast is sufficient enough to get the point across that Audrey Tautou should never play a sad character because it is too depressing for me anyone to handle. There are plentiful hilarious moments and enough drama that expands on the formulaic rom-com template evident that makes it more than worth the price of a ticket. Just pick up a box of tissues on the way to the cinema.

Out Now – 20th April 2012

There are a grand total of eighteen films out today so I have limited myself to trying to summarise each in exactly ten words*. Wish me luck.

Amanda Seyfried faces former kidnapper/serial killer after sister’s disappearance.

Riot in space prison, President’s daughter taken hostage. Guy Pearce!?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Romantic comedy drama genuinely involving salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Transit (limited release)
Family bond while on the run from violent bank robbers.

Town of Runners (limited release)
Documentary following young runners in Ethiopian rural town of Bekoji.

Beauty (Skoonheid) (limited release)
Apathetic man has his life unravelled by unexpected sexual awakening.

Grave Encounters (limited release)
Found footage horror featuring reality TV show gone supernaturally wrong.

Elles** (limited release)
Prostitution funds student’s studies. Take the escort in your life.

Breathing (limited release)
Teen leaves prison and battles with guilt in Austrian drama.

Marley (limited release)
People talk about Bob Marley. Musician, activist and womaniser. Legend.

Vicky Donor*** (limited release)
Bollywood film about sperm donation. Stranger things have happened, allegedly.

The Bad and the Beautiful (limited release)
Re-release of early Hollywood film about early Hollywood. How meta.

Fury (limited release)
Avengers‘ Nick Fury stars in Fury not as Nick Fury.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy (limited release)
Dark romantic comedy from Canada with drug smuggler as lead.

Oliver Sherman (limited release)
Unstable veteran invades the life of man who saved his.

Elfie Hopkins (limited release)
Double Winstone starring horror. Teen detective investigates mysterious new neighbours.

The Divide (limited release)
Nuclear attack! Survivors in basement fight amongst themselves. Typical humans.

Hollywoo**** (Cine Lumiere only)
French dubbing actress convinces American actress not to quit show.

*I cheated using asterisks.
**Sexy French film of the week.
***Only included to make the list of films seem even more ridiculously long.
****Ten words was not enough to explain this one properly

Joss, Don’t Be a Giles Tease

Way back in 2001 as the character of Rupert Giles left Buffy the Vampire Slayer (greatest TV show ever made) Joss Whedon first toyed with the idea of a spin off series made by the BBC and starring Anthony Stewart Head in his role as Rupert Giles. This series was to be called Ripper and Whedon has been mentioning the series/special in interviews ever since.

On Wednesday The A.V. Club ran an interview with Whedon discussing The Avengers in which he revealed that Ripper still isn’t completely dead yet. The relevant part of the interview is below:

The thing about Ripper — the essence of it — is that the BBC came to me at one point like, “It doesn’t have to be Ripper. It can just be [Anthony Stewart Head], and there’s magic, and he’s Tony, cuz he’s awesome.” And that’s the thing: For some reason, he keeps getting sexier every year. That’s not happening to me! I’m like, “What are you doing?” And that story was always about a mature guy who’s lived, and about the choices he’s made. So you could make that now, or you could make it 10 years from now. And I’ve tortured Tony more than any other living human with, “We’re definitely gonna do this!” Because I thought we were. He’s working so much, though, I’d feel too guilty. But that’s the thing with Ripper: It doesn’t go away in my head because he’s still right for it, and he could still bring it.

If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favourite TV series of all time then Rupert Giles is my favourite TV character of all time. Clearly nothing would make me happier than if Joss Whedon were to finally make Ripper at the BBC with Anthony Stewart Head. I just wish that the project would either happen or that Whedon would stop bring it up and raising my hopes.

Come on Joss, poop or get off the pot. I’ve been waiting eleven years already.

Hitchcock/Hopkins Face/Off

Following in the recent footsteps of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and… erm… Joseph Gordon-Levitt as kinda-sort-of Bruce Willis, People have our first look at Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock. You can barely recognise him under all those chins.

Hopkins will be playing Hitchcock in the film Hitchcock which follows the making of the classic Hitchcockian Hitchcock thriller Psycho as made more obvious in the original (slightly clunky) title of Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho.

Hitchcock also stars the poor man’s Judi Dench Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Colette and James D’Arcy. D’Arcy has a name that sounds familiar until you realise the only time you’ve seen him was in Secret Diary of a Call Girl falling in love with an escort so maybe he’s not the one you were thinking of after all.

Hitchcock started filming last week and will be in cinemas when it’s bloody well ready.

The Cabin in the Woods – When Does Plot Become a Twist?

Last night I finally saw The Cabin in the Woods and can think of nothing to add to Rach’s succinct review. Instead I am going to briefly ponder the fuss that is being made about the level of spoilers in other reviews for this film and in the film’s trailer. If you haven’t seen the film this probably won’t make too much sense so you should probably get to the cinema and fix that – it is well worth your money.

The Cabin in the Woods features the familiar premise of a group of teenagers alone in the woods being terrorised by some manner of evil, but the film has one vital “twist” that separates it from the horror films it draws from. This “twist” is not revealed at the end but actually features from the opening scene and, while we do learn certain specifics in the final act, is never really hidden from the audience. The plot twist in The Cabin in the Woods is in fact the plot and as we know about it from the start it is never used to fully turn the film on its head and make you reconsider what you are watching.

As I said there is a reveal towards the end of the film but this doesn’t feel too twisty either. At no point was anything revealed to the audience that would make you watch the film in a different light a second time through. A second watch would most likely only reveal the huge amount of clever references to other horror rather than any foreshadowing of the film’s conclusion.

While The Cabin in the Woods plot does not contain a twist in itself, I would argue (and am right now) that the whole of the film is in fact the plot twist for hundreds of other films. This film now allows us to go back and watch other horror films for a second time and experience them on another level through the The Cabin in the Woods lens. This film is the plot twist to Friday the 13th, The Strangers, The Evil Dead and any number of other horror movies.

The Cabin in the Woods is clever, funny and a hell of a lot of fun with a few surprises up its sleeves. Just don’t go expecting a plot twist.