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Posts Tagged ‘Imogen Poots’

It must be quite curious to be Steve Coogan: undoubtedly a massive talent, and a man with a significant international career (he tends to pop up in one or two Hollywood movies a year, albeit usually quirky supporting roles), easily capable of selling out major live tours in the UK – and yet his CV is still dominated by one comedy character he first performed on radio over twenty years ago. He might, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling that his career has faltered somewhat, certainly compared to some of the predictions that were being made ten or fifteen years ago.

And yet he can still lead, and perhaps more importantly open a movie. Many of his most interesting recent parts have emerged from his collaborations with Michael Winterbottom, an endlessly prolific and unpredictable director. It was Coogan and Winterbottom who made 24 Hour Party People in 2002, a look at a particular slice of British cultural history framed as a biopic (and possibly the only biopic in history whose subject turned up uninvited to press conferences promoting the film, solely in order to stand at the back and heckle the film-makers).

There’s something similar about Winterbottom’s new movie, The Look of Love, which Coogan also stars in – although they are unlikely to be harassed by its disgruntled subjects this time around, as most of the principals are safely deceased. Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the self-styled ‘King of Soho’ (this was apparently going to be the title of the movie until it transpired that Raymond’s own heirs were planning a biography with that title).

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The movie opens in 1958, with Raymond presented as a fairly small-time seaside impressario (his big success is with a show featuring topless lion-taming) However, a move to London and the opening of the glitzy ‘Raymond Revuebar’ leads to much more substantial success, and the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of theatrical censorship in 1968 offers much wider opportunities in the field of adult entertainment.  As the film acknowledges, you are never likely to lose money with a business plan based around charging to look at naked women, but the financial rewards Raymond reaps come at the expense of the collapse of his marriage (Anna Friel plays Raymond’s wife, and does so rather well).

New girlfriend (Tamsin Egerton) in tow, Raymond enters the seventies intent on an odyssey of bacchanalian excess and slightly shabby bad-taste glamour, branching out into property investment and adult publishing. As time passes, the film makes it increasingly clear that the only meaningful relationship in Raymond’s life is the one he has with his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots, who I believe we can legitimately refer to as a rising star following her many recent successes), but the involvement of a fragile young woman in the world Raymond inhabits comes at a price.

As I mentioned, Steve Coogan is best-known as a comedy performer, and the shadow of the Partridge to some extent hangs over his work here – it’s hard not to conclude that his history playing pompous and slightly absurd figures was one of the factors which led to his being cast here. And, apart from the three women already mentioned, he’s backed up by a supporting cast which is essentially a who’s who of contemporary British comic talent – everyone from David Walliams to Dara O’Briain (who, somewhat oddly, appears to have been cast as Alexei Sayle, though this is left implicit).

So, as you’d expect, this is a film containing some very funny moments, most of them admittedly in questionable taste – the subject matter of Raymond’s businesses and lifestyle has resulted in the film getting an 18 certificate (which, incidentally, has doubtless impacted on its box office returns – I was the only punter at the afternoon showing I attended). Coogan carries all this off with the aplomb you might expect.

However, the strange thing about The Look of Love is that the casting doesn’t really reflect the main thrust of the story, because this is not at its heart the off-colour farce or jolly mickey-take of Raymond you might expect. This is really a tragedy, of sorts, and an attempt to examine the paradox at the heart of Paul Raymond – an absolutely devoted, loving father, who nevertheless uses and exploits women on a literally industrial scale, his success as a property tycoon, entrepreneur, and pornographer making him the wealthiest man in the UK.

Then again, I may be misreading the intent of the film, as this element of the plot takes a while to really get going, prior to which we are treated to various jolly japes and escapades featuring Raymond and his relationships with the characters played by Friel and Egerton. On the other hand, the film is framed by an absolutely desolated Raymond recalling his relationship with his daughter, so…

Anyway, Coogan gives a fantastic performance, managing to find some humanity behind Raymond’s ridiculous image, and he’s genuinely touching when confronted by the failures of his various relationships and the various tribulations in his daughter’s life. Imogen Poots is as classy as ever as Debbie Raymond.

Despite all this, I didn’t find this as satisfying as some of Coogan and Winterbottom’s previous collaborations. Partly this is down to the unevenness of tone, partly due to a sense of having seen this kind of film done numerous times before. I think perhaps it’s also down to the ambiguity of the film – on the one hand there’s a lot of implied criticism of Raymond’s overblown lifestyle and business concerns, but on the other we’re treated to a lot of shapely female flesh in various poses and combinations. As ever, there’s a thin line between making fun of prurience and simply being prurient yourself.

However, this isn’t a bad film, by any means – the period settings are convincing, the story rattles along engagingly, and the performances are accomplished. It never quite gets to the heart of its central character, but it still does a good enough job of telling his rather peculiar story to be worth a look.

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Sometimes you go to the cinema because there’s a film on you particularly want to see, sometimes you go because there was a trailer that looked sort of interesting, sometimes you go because the saturation-bombardment of publicity is inescapable and the film in question is a major cultural event. And sometimes you go to the cinema just because you want to go to the cinema, and what you go to see isn’t necessarily very important.

I tell you, folks, much as I enjoyed Trance last week, a lot of the films around at the moment really leave me sort of cold, which is a surprise as some of them are big-budget genre fantasies of the kind that once would have been right up my alley. But, truth be told, the likes of Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Killer really don’t appeal right now, and so – somewhat to my surprise – I found myself going to see Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet.

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I believe this is one of those movies enjoying what always seems to me like an eccentric release, by which I mean that it became available in theatres, on DVD, and for download at round about the same time. The theatre release probably qualifies as counter-programming, given the preponderance of big dumb movies for young people. That said, I sense a degree of uncertainty as to whom A Late Quartet is aimed at from its supporting programme – no actual cinema trailers at all, while the adverts preceding it appeared to be aimed at, to say the least, a broad demographic: one for spot cream, one for a cruise company, two connected with the dangers of degenerative eye disease and one for Wrestlemania 2013.

There’s only metaphorical wrestling in the movie itself, which is concerned with the activities of a long-established and celebrated string quartet, based in New York City. On cello is the patriarchal figure of Christopher Walken, while playing the viola is his adopted daughter, Catherine Keener. Keener’s husband Philip Seymour Hoffman is second violin, and Walken’s brilliant former student Mark Ivanir is first violin. As you can see, the ties that bind the four musicians are nearly as close as those of a family – only compounded by the fact that Ivanir is giving Keener and Hoffman’s daughter Imogen Poots private tuition – the difference being that their activities require, if anything, a greater degree of harmony than that of a comparable group of blood relations.

But hidden tensions between the different members of the group are suddenly articulated when Walken discovers a sudden deterioration in his technique is due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease: he will soon lose the ability to play to the necessary standard. Who should replace him? Should he even be replaced at all? With the future of the quartet suddenly in flux Hoffman takes this opportunity to voice his desire to play first violin at least some of the time, something the obsessively perfectionist Ivanir vehemently objects to. And so on, the relationships of the foursome rapidly becoming strained, to say the least.

Perhaps it’s the Manhattan setting, but it seemed to me that this movie isn’t a million miles away from the kind of thing Woody Allen’s based his career on for the last two and a half decades – the personal and professional tribulations of a small coterie of affluent metropolitans. However, and I say this with all due respect and affection for Allen, A Late Quartet is a much more impressive and satisfying movie than anything he’s done recently. Partly this is because the unfolding of the plot is intelligent and convincing, with the different threads interacting subtly and plausibly, but also because this film doesn’t have the occasionally-uneasy throwing together of comedy and drama that marks some Allen movies. This movie is measured and consistent, restrained and classy almost all the way through (although a scene where Hoffman appears to be having a very nice time while a lithe flamenco dancer sits on him is slightly incongruous).

My musical experience is, of course, limited (currently trying to master Bat Out Of Hell on the ukulele, should anyone be interested), but all four actors make very convincing virtuoso musicians, and the film does a good job of suggesting some of the demands of this kind of career and the sacrifices involved. But it works as well as it does because they are superb in bringing these characters to life as real people – this film doesn’t have the biggest cast, but everyone in it is brilliant.

You don’t necessarily expect affecting humanity from a Christopher Walken performance, but he makes for a touching vulnerable figure here as he comes to term with the loss of the central element of his life. No-one else in cinema delivers a monologue quite like Walken does, and he gets a couple of crackers here. That said, he’s by no means the central character, and  – if I’m pushed – I’d have to say the acting honours go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is as compelling as usual as a man unwittingly in the midst of a midlife crisis. Admittedly, he is doing the kind of ‘wounded bear’ character we’ve seen from him before, but this is still a Rolls Royce display of screen acting.

But there really isn’t very much wrong with this film in any department. Some of the general arcs of the plot are, to some degree, predictable, but not to the extent that the film becomes dull or hackneyed. The ending manages to give a sense of closure without being unrealistically tidy or glib, which is a neat piece of storytelling before one even considers what it may be suggesting about the power of music or its true hold over the main characters – but then this film is a class act throughout. A thoroughly engaging and really impressive drama.

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Haven’t watched any Olympics so far, don’t feel this has blighted my life, didn’t watch the opening ceremony either – if you really must know, I came across a copy of Gamera the Invincible on the internet and found the prospect of watching that far more appealing. Nevertheless, from all I hear I Love Wonder was a great success. Spiffing; hopefully now Danny Boyle can get back to making horror movies as only he can.

I am of course particularly anticipating Boyle getting to work on 28 Months Later, and I suppose this is a little surprising as I seem to recall being a bit lukewarm about 28 Days Later when it first appeared in 2002. I didn’t think it was a bad film, I just wasn’t as impressed as many other people clearly were. Nevertheless, despite my usual policy of not buying films on DVD unless I’ve already seen them and know they’ll reward many viewings, I bought the box set of it and its sequel, which I missed at the cinema, the first chance I got.

For 28 Weeks Later Boyle stepped back from the director’s position and let Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have a go, although I’ve been told he handled the opening sequence personally. This is not surprising as it’s one of the most visceral and disturbing parts of the film. Here we meet Don (Robert Carlyle), an average family man who’s taken refuge from the outbreak of the Rage virus in a country farmhouse. (This section is set during the same timeframe as the first movie.) However, he and the people he is with are discovered by a pack of infected and he is forced to flee, the only survivor – his desperation to escape making him commit a genuinely shocking act.

Months later, as suggested by the end of the first film, the infected have died of starvation leaving mainland Britain ruined and empty. Refugees who escaped the quarantine are being repatriated by a US Army task force, based at an enclave in central London. Two of the latest arrivals are Don’s kids Andy and Tamsin (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots – yeah, like those are their real names!) – despite the fact that the presence of children does not sit well with chief medical officer Scarlett (the lovely Rose Byrne).

Scarlett’s concerns prove well-founded when the kids slip out of the compound and discover someone who has survived the outbreak of the Rage. The problem is that they have done so due to a genetic anomaly, which makes them an asymptomatic carrier of the virus: they carry inside them the seeds of a second outbreak, and one which could potentially be even more dangerous than the original…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve seen this film: the recap above presents the facts of the story rather idiosyncratically, but this is only because I want to preserve some of the shocks and surprises built into the plot. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the focus on Don and his family completely works as the film progresses – given what we saw of the virus and the infected in the first film, the way that some characters behave in the later stages of this one is a little bit startling. (The issue of why the infected don’t simply turn on each other becomes an even more clouded one.)

I suppose one could be accused of taking a very gory zombie movie a bit too seriously by even worrying about this sort of thing, but both these movies are smarter than you’d expect and thus deserve serious consideration. It seems to me that both these films are, on some level, about fear of the mob and the innate human capacity for savagery, but 28 Weeks Later adds a new layer to this by being much more openly political. The repatriatees live in a ‘Green Zone’, while the US Army have, possibly prematurely, declared a formerly hazardous area safe.

It’s very clear that the US Army’s occupation of London is intended, on some level, as a satire on the occupation of Iraq, which adds a new subtext to latter scenes, in which their general (Idris Elba) orders his troops to fire upon civilians to stop the Rage spreading. It’s an interesting idea, and allows for some stunning images – the Isle of Dogs being firebombed, helicopter gunships attacking civilian vehicles in central London – as well as (of course) allowing some American stars to appear in the cast (Jeremy Renner and Harold Perrineau are the most prominent). But I still don’t think this subtext of the film completely makes sense, not least because – on one level – the general is clearly justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to stop the virus spreading.

Nevertheless, this angle, and the fact that as a result this is much more of an action-chase movie than the first one, definitely give it its own identity. I think part of the reason for my subdued response to the Danny Boyle film was that it did seem to me to be an obvious mash-up of two sources I already knew very well (Night of the Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids). I’m not saying 28 Weeks Later is a better film, but I think I’ve watched it more often, quite simply because it is more original.

That said, I did respond rather negatively to it the first time I saw it. Quite apart from the ungallant treatment meted out to the lovely Rose Byrne, I was repelled by the overwhelming, nightmarish bleakness of the film’s atmosphere and story, and especially its ending (as is common, the original doesn’t really leave obvious material for a sequel – this one goes out of its way to allow the story to continue, but of course the rights then got tied up, leaving the third installment in limbo). But now it seems to me that this is the horror of the film, as much as in the splatter and gore – unsympathetic though he is, the general’s ruthless approach to the crisis is ultimately proven to be the right one. It’s the human sympathy and affection shown by many of the main characters which is misplaced and ultimately results in catastrophe (I suppose you could also argue it’s all Don’s fault, but spoilers await). Compassion and empathy, in this film, are what wind up getting you killed, and that’s not a comforting message.

As I said, the ending is left wide open for further episodes (although I’m not sure what they can do with the titles after 28 Months Later – entering the realm of years and decades stretches credibility somewhat), the main challenge being simply to match the level of ingenuity and originality set by this first follow-up. I hope they manage it; this is a superior sequel and a memorable horror movie in its own right.

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‘I don’t think vampires are frightening any more… we know the rules so well.’ Sir Christopher Frayling

Or, if you prefer a pithier quote from someone less respectable, how about ‘Vampires have become Horror’s equivalent of Star Trek,’ from Kim Newman? These days I think a better comparison would be with McDonalds, and not on the grounds that both are questionable on dietary grounds. But they’ve both become vaguely disreputable, while remaining very popular and continuing to dish up more-or-less exactly the same fare.

Nevertheless, when launching a new vampire story into a fairly unforgiving marketplace, it helps to have an edge, even if that edge solely consists of being a remake. Which brings us to Craig Gillespie’s version of Fright Night, the original of which hit our screens in 1985.

Former Buffy scribe Marti Noxon has relocated the story to Las Vegas, a smart move given it’s a city where everyone’s up all night as a matter of course and abnormal behaviour is, er, normal. Our protagonist is Charlie (Anton Yelchin, possibly best known for playing Chekov in the Star Trek re-do), a recovering geek living with his mum (Toni Collette, possibly best known for Muriel’s Wedding) and doing improbably well with his beautiful girlfriend (Imogen Poots, possibly best known for 28 Weeks Later). However, his old friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, possibly best known for Kick-Ass) breaks surprising news to him – his new neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell, possibly best known for his remarkable ubiquity over the last decade) is a bloodsucking undead predator!

As you’d expect, Charlie is initially very dubious about this but events convince him otherwise (one of his other neighbours goes on a date with Jerry then explodes when the sun comes up the next day, for one thing). Jerry does not take kindly to having his secret exposed and soon Charlie’s loved ones are also in peril. In desperation, Charlie resorts to asking for help from Goth-styled stage magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant, possibly best known for… um… er… I expect it’ll come to me), little suspecting that he is really about as much use in this situation as a rubber stake…

The original Fright Night was part of a slew of vampire movies that came out in the mid Eighties, appearing just after The Hunger but before The Lost Boys and Near Dark. I don’t think it’s as accomplished as any of those, but it did make a pile of money which is probably why it’s been given the remake treatment. That said, elements from some of those movies make an appearance here, and the new film is tonally fairly different too. You could argue that this refers to Eighties horror in the same way the Eighties version was a homage to a still earlier era, I suppose – although the way the rewrite changes Peter Vincent from a fading movie actor to a magician sort of disconnects the gag that he’s named in honour of two legends of horror. Hey ho.

Things get off to a slightly wobbly start due to the plot’s demands that Charlie be simultaneously best friends with an enormous geek and possessor of an amazingly hot girlfriend, and the script does not negotiate around this issue with tremendous deftness. It also seems for a while as if everything will degenerate into knowing self-referentiality and wearisome irony – though there are also some very neat moments, such as a scene where Charlie desperately tries to avoid inviting Jerry into his house without making it too obvious.

However, once the story picks up pace the film stops trying to be clever and actually becomes a rather engaging piece of knockabout schlock. Some showing-off from the director doesn’t help, and the rather naturalistic atmosphere is slightly at odds with some of the excesses involved. But the performances are very good throughout – David Tennant resists the temptation to steal the entire movie (it was clearly a close thing) but is clearly having a lot of fun, while Colin Farrell manages to find a way of playing a vampire that isn’t obviously influenced by anyone else.

It’s actually a bit of a pleasure to find a vampire movie that’s so resolutely old-school in its treatment of the beasts – as someone says, Jerry isn’t lonely or tragic or heartbroken, he’s the shark in Jaws! On the other hand, the movie’s reading of the vampire myth isn’t especially profound – apparently the vampire symbolises a cooler and richer older guy out to steal your girlfriend. Not a lot of material there for Freud to work with.

Anyway, while the new Fright Night isn’t anything very special, I would say the same was arguably true of the first one too. Nevertheless, it’s a nicely put-together movie with lots of good performances and a solid understanding of the conventions of vampire movies. It’s not actually scary in any but the most mechanical of ways, but it’s frequently amusing and often very nearly thrilling. A good bet for a fun trip out, always assuming you like this sort of thing.

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