Talking Movies

May 5, 2018

From the Archives: Son of Rambow

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives turns up a neglected British comedy whose child stars went on to interesting careers while its director waited nearly a decade for Sing.

Garth Jennings, director of the flawed but fun Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, fulfils his obvious potential with a very funny and charming slice of 1980s nostalgia. Directed from his own script, which he was working on prior to Hitchhiker’s, this is very obviously a deeply personal project. Fantastic young lead actor Bill Milner (think a less annoying Freddie Highmore…) plays Will, a shy child who lives with his widowed religious mother and has little contact with the rough side of life…until a detention-worthy encounter in the school corridor with Carter, whose introduction is a visual triumph. Will Poulter is fantastic as Lee Carter, the coolest kid in school. Every school had one of these, a bad boy with a heart of gold…maybe. But not every school had one who got up to such demented antics involving flying plastic dogs…

It’s a great pity that this film is being released after the similarly themed Be Kind Rewind as this is far, far funnier. Jennings’ staging of the boys’ production of insane home movie Son of Rambow is just inspired, with endless quirky and inventive stunts. The warmth of the script has attracted a nice supporting cast of British actors including comedy legend Eric Sykes. Spaced star Jessica Stevenson stands out in an unusually dramatic turn as Will’s mother, a leading member of the Plymouth Brethren who disavow music, films and television. Will thus has to sit outside while TV documentaries are shown in class, which leads to a wonderful running gag, and also his fateful encounter with Carter.

Featuring the coolest New Romantic French exchange student of all time among other joys this does occasionally dip into cliché with its ‘touching’ message about childhood friendship and the liberating joy of cinema. But it’s all done with such obvious affection for the perils of watching Rambo at too young an age that it can be forgiven its faults. Son of Rambow is reminiscent of Grosse Pointe Blank in being a film so warm-hearted and fun that it can make you nostalgic for a 1980s adolescence you never even had.

4/5

January 14, 2016

The Revenant

Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu goes into the wild with Leonardo DiCaprio for a survival story in the Old West.

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DiCaprio is Glass, a scout for an expedition led by Domhnall Gleeson’s Captain Henry, hunting for animal pelts along the Missouri River. But this puts them into dangerous proximity to ‘the Ree’ aka the Iroquois Nation. After a surprise attack by the Iroquois, who transpire to be on a Searchers mission for their chief’s kidnapped daughter, the pelt party has to literally abandon ship and head into the snowy mountains. Unfortunately that’s when Glass has an intimate encounter with an irate bear. And when the antagonistic Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is left in charge of his care, while the rest of the party trek on, you get the feeling this won’t end well. Sure enough Fitzgerald ditches a not quite dead Glass in a shallow grave. Glass though claws his way out, and clings to life for the sake of revenge…

Not that this is a revenge movie. There’s about 20 minutes of revenge at the end. Prior to that you are watching a survival movie which quite often feels like a feature ‘Old West’ special of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor aka Man Vs Wild. Glass utilises a number of Bear’s tricks: he rearranges stones in a river to catch fish, scoops the guts out of a horse to hide inside its carcass to avoid a storm, uses a flint to light a fire, and even manages to break his fall off a cliff by using a tree. The one unconscionable thing he does is eat snow, which Bear has repeatedly warned against; but as Glass had lost his canteen at that point he probably gets a Mulligan. DiCaprio gives a committed performance, proudly displaying a kinship with Pierce Brosnan when it comes to the grunting and moaning in pain school of physical acting, while Hardy is a good antagonist; his naked self-interest quite probably as correct as Peter Weller’s misgivings in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski shot only in natural light in what seems little more than creating unnecessary difficulties in order to prove their worth as artistes. It doesn’t add much to the cinematic experience, these landscapes speak for themselves; indeed it grates when you’re asked to marvel at CGI animals when you’ve seen the real bison and wolves in The Hunt on the BBC. The Iroquois attack is spectacular because of the shooting style, but thereafter the in-DiCapario’s-face affectation becomes annoying. You wish the camera would back up about four feet and jack up another five so you could have some sense of location and action. There is a scene where gravely injured Glass gets down from a cliff in one startling jump-cut, the total lack of establishing shots makes you wonder if he just rolled over the edge…

The Revenant is 2 hours 36 minutes but it flies by. An engaging how-to manual for surviving the Old West ought not be confused with high cinematic art though just because its makers made its shoot a living hell.

3/5

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