The Good, The (turned out to be) Bad (ish) and The Ugly

The new job I have just started means I now work on a Saturday, early to late, so while everyone else is strapping themselves into some ankle-breaking shoes and necking a bottle (or two) of vino, cream crackered and splayed on the sofa is where you’ll find me. In the absense of any trashy, Saturday night TV to melt our medullas, we took a trip to good ol’ Blockbuster and picked up this trio of recent releases. For any of you OCDers reading this, you’ll be pleased to know that these images are placed in the same order they were watched, which is incidently the exact same order in which they were released; Please Give in 2010, Albatross in October 2011 and Michael earlier this year.

The Good:

Please Give is one of just a handful of feature films from American Director, Nicole Holofeener who’s actually better known for her origins and directorial ventures in world of television including some Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls. Her roots in TV become quite apparent in what transpires to be an extremely character led and soap-style film but definitely an enjoyable and charming watch nonetheless.

The narrative tells the story of Alex (Oliver Platt) and Kate (the wonderful, Catherine Keener), a couple well out of their honeymoon period and their relationship with their “acne-ridden” daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). Parallel plot lines also recount the complicated biographies of their neighbours, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet): sisters who battle with a chalk-and-cheese kind of relationship whilst caring for their 91-year-old Grandma (Ann Guilbert). As expected, the film develops as these characters are each intersected in their own various, episodic subplots – very Soap Opera!

Kate and Alex own a shop in Manhatten where they sell faux antique items for extortionate prices, explaining the merciless guilt Kate harbours and her obession with nurturing for the homeless, to ease her own conscience. Alex and Mary embark on a sordid but unlikely affair while him and his oblivious wife wait for the girls’ Grandma to die so they can take over her flat in order to expand their own apartment. What is essentially a predictable portrayal of superficiality and consumer culture in Manhatten told through all the stereotypical cliches (the spotty, angsty teenager, the dysfunctional relationships, the comical pensioner and sibling rivalry) is actually totally engrossing and extremely humorous. Definitely worth a watch for some easy viewing!

The (turned out to be) Bad (ish):

From just the DVD box itself, the very opening credits and the fact that in the first thirty seconds the protagonist had set fireworks off in a bin, on a crowded beach and ran off laughing, I was hooked. I was so convinced I was going to fall in love with Niall MacCormick’s, Albatross that I comitted to tweeting about it!! However I was sorely let down and ended up regretting my Twitter outburst.

It’s described as a British, “coming of age comedy” and it’s true to it’s word in every sticky sweet, rose tinted sense of the word. Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) lost her parents to suicide at a very young age, left school and now looks after her Grandparents in between being a hotel maid and restaurant waitress. The camera leads us, the spectators, to follow Emelia into a room behind a door emblazened with a ‘PRIVATE’ sign and from here on in, her rebellious nature and anarchaic lifestyle blossom into a series of troublesome incidents. Emelia wears the mandatory uniform of a Brit-Com, teen rebel: the leather jacket, the smudgy eyeliner and a sultry smirk, makes friends with an innocent bystander, Beth (Felicity Jones) but disrupts the equilibrium by sleeping with her father.

What could have been a really witty, gritty Brit drama turned out to be a little too Tracey Beaker and not enough Andrea Arnold for me. Beautiful setting, though and stuning locations but not one I was clinging onto when the rental period was up.

The Ugly: 

So this next one, Michael, was the most harrowing of the three (not that it had much competition in the spook stakes compared to the other two) but was definitely the one I found myself engaging most with and the one which left it’s mark on me.

The film is the brainchild of Markus Schleinze and manifests his debut directorial venture, recounting the story of a man named (yep, you guessed it) Michael who, beneath his generic office worker exterior, is one perverse yet intriguing individual. As the plot unravels we discover that, basically, he is keeping a kidnapped child (David Rauchenberger) locked in his basement where he sexually abuses him. However the static camera, naturalistic lighting and ingenerate dialogue used to project a depiction of habitual lifestyle and mundane, every day life extract anything explicitly sinister. It is the Director’s use of implication and hyper-normality though, which, in a sort of paradox, makes this film more traumatic. The film may be the first from Schleinze but his intelligence and ability to manipulate an audience are unquestionable. I’m still struggling to figure out if it is merely a sobering demonstration of peadophelia or a raised eyebrow in the direction of a spectator who assumes the worst from Michael’s implicit actions, from washing his crotch after leaving the boys room to his constant lingering gaze and fatehrly nurturing…

If, throughout a film, I can forget the actors are acting and that the entire cherade is merely a construction to indulge our entertainment then it totally gains my respect. Micheal definitely comes under this umbrella and I think we shall be seeing a lot more from Schleinze, Fuith and the fantastic Rauchengerger in the future,based on these convinving portrayals!

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