14 February 2011

The Cry of the Owl

I saw this film by chance and didn't know anything about it before choosing to watch it. When I saw that Paddy Considine had the lead role I was reminded of his phenomenal performance in the cult British film Dead Man's Shoes. The Cry of the Owl is an inferior film to Dead Man's Shoes, but that alone is no insult. I found it quite entertaining for an American psychological thriller, a genre usually rammed with predictable and artificial cinematic suspense, annoying unrealistic characters and cheap emotional manipulation. This film avoids most of the usual  traps, developing several realistic yet pretty unlikeable characters, not overusing dramatic tension and keeping well clear of the massively overused and simplistic good heroic protagonist vs evil psychopath theme.

I found the characters engaging because they were portrayed as realistic people full of faults and mental issues. Robert (Considine) had fled the big city after the breakdown of his marriage with the selfish and unsympathetic Nikki (Caroline Dhavernas) caused by his depression. He ends up in a confused relationship with the emotionally unstable Jenny (Julia Stiles) causing her ex-boyfriend Jack (Gord Rand) to turn nasty.

When Jack goes missing Robert becomes the prime suspect causing his employers, work colleagues and neighbours to shut the door on him. There are several plot twists but rather than using the usual trick of turning the dramatic tension up to 10 and then unleashing the plot twist, the twists in this film are done in a refreshingly understated way.

The biggest disappointment for me was the cliffhanger ending, but even this was reasonably well done linking back to several themes within the film rather than just leaving the protagonist in a dilemma to get people talking as they leave the cinema.

After watching the film I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes and found that it had a pathetic 14% rating with critics and 25% audience approval. IMDb gives it a much more reasonable 61% approval rating but I'm still shocked to find that this film is so unpopular when I found it quite enjoyable.

I read several of the negative reviews and none of them really stated anything specific that they disliked about the film, they just generally slated it and gave poor review scores. I think the problem is that the psychological thriller has become such a predictable genre that these critics may have gone into the film expecting something that fits the formula but when they were served up a bedraggled and depressed protagonist, an emotionally disturbed female lead with crazy mystical beliefs and a death obsession, a shrew of an ex-wife and a vengeful ex-boyfriend they found themselves scrabbling to identify which of the characters they should be rooting for and when it became clear that as in real life the film has no hero, simply a set of characters suffering a range of mental health problems they decided that they didn't like it at all.

The film has faults, some of the imagery like the recurring crossroad scene is too simplistic but that is more than made up for by the film's idiosyncrasies like the supposedly loyal dog lapping the blood from his masters head would. I was inclined to give the film a higher mark just because it has been so widely slated but I'm going to stick to what I originally thought and give it a 3.

Overall review: 3  (what does this mean)

See also

The Cry of the Owl at Rotten Tomatoes

01 February 2011

Cote d'Azur (Crustaces & Coquillages)

Cote d'Azur (Crustaces & Coquillages) or in English Cote d'Azur (Cockles & Muscles) is a French comedy drama directed by Oliver Ducastel and Jacques Martineau and released in 2006.

The film follows events in one family who have inherited a house on the Cote d'Azur and go there on holiday. The parents (played by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Gilbert Melki) begin to believe that their son is gay when his openly gay friend comes to stay with them. The mother's lover (Jacques Bonnaffé) shows up at the resort and the father rediscovers his teenage romance with a local man (Jean-Marc Barr).

Reviews are mixed, the Guardian gave it a 3/5 rating and called it a "a fitfully amusing, sympathetically played sex comedy" while review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 50% rating from critics and a 62% audience rating. The majority of reviews seem to mark it as OK however Cole Smithey gave it one star and described it as "an act of cinematic masturbation against a pastel background".

French sex comedy is not really one of my favoured genres, however I watched it with the mistaken assumption that it would be funny and in the hope that it may be of similar quality to the charming, whimsical and intricate French romantic comedy Amelie. I was badly wrong on both counts, the film was as funny as toothache and as charming and intricate as internet porn. I really struggle to see how anyone could claim that the film was "fitfully amusing" unless they are big fans of titillation and simplistic potty humour. I mean how many times do you need to be shown blokes wanking in the shower before it stops being funny?

One of the main faults with the film is the fact that it is absolutely impossible to establish any emotional empathy with any of the characters who are nothing more than vacuous ciphers to the "plot". The mother is not motivated to become unfaithful through suffering an unloving relationship or lack of sex but just from boredom. The father character drifts listlessly through the film until he has his gay encounter. The son (Romain Torres) is annoying and decietful, he decides to trick his parents into thinking that he is gay, incessantly teases his gay friend (Edouard Collin) by challenging him to wanking competitions and hanging around him half naked.

The other characters in the film are utterly two dimensional, the daughter leaves with her biker boyfriend around ten minutes into the film and only comes back for the ridiculous finale, the father's lover could have been an interesting heartbroken character however his distasteful habit of going to the local cottaging site to pick up teenage boys every night precludes empathy.

When it eventually comes out that the parents have both been sleeping with other people one would expect some feelings of betrayal, recrimination and anger, however instead of taking the opportunity to explore a potentially interesting emotional situation the film sidesteps the issue and the couple immediately cuddle and make up. After the affairs the film jumps to the following summer when the cast all come together for a group holiday with the parents happily rooming with their new partners. The film finishes with a reprise of their vapid and excruciatingly bad song about seafood.

The film is dreadful, it trivialises all the interesting issues such as; teenage boys discovering their sexuality, adulterous relationships, the difficulties of being a gay man in a conventional family, the reliving of a teenage romance in later life and the emotional aftermath of betrayal. It seems incapable of properly addressing female sexuality sending the teenage daughter character away to avoid dealing with her sexuality and making the mother an emotionless slut that has sex with two men for no other reason than boredom. This really is a film to avoid unless you are the kind of person that finds Sex in the City hilarious and well observed.

Overall review: 1 (what does this mean)

See also