Posts Tagged ‘Sean Ellis’

Sometimes the trailers for other movies at the start of a DVD give you a bit of an insight into the quality of whatever it is you’re about to partake of – simply because these tend to be assigned on the ‘if you like this, you’ll probably like these, too’. This occasionally tips me off to a film I’ve never heard of but which looks interesting. At other times it’s an early warning system giving me valuable notice of the need to lower my expectations radically.

As, for example, when the advert for the Billy Zane-Kelly Brook erotic potboiler Three turns up at the top of a disc. The, ahem, edited highlights of this film can easily be found on a number of video-sharing websites, revealing not only that Miss Brook still can’t act in any measurable sense, but that her wardrobe budget for the entire movie appears to have been about 75p, and that – more seriously – the film is shooting for torrid but ends up hitting turgid.

The Three trailer indeed turned up on a rented DVD recently. Not a good omen for the film which followed, which was Sean Ellis’s Cashback – but not an entirely unfair one, either. For a while I was convinced this was going to turn out to be one of the most misconceived, wrong-headed, downright nastiest films I’ve seen in a long time. I relented on this opinion a bit as the movie went on, but… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Sean Biggerstaff plays Ben, an art student suddenly afflicted with total insomnia after a stressful breakup with his girlfriend (Michelle Ryan, who’s not in it much). Short of cash he decides to put these extra hours to use by getting a job on the night shift at the Whitechapel branch of the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain.

Here he meets various wacky characters but also checkout girl Sharon (Emilia Fox). Is she the girl who can help him get over his breakup and find true love?

Well, er, yes. Sorry if I’m spoiling the ending for you there. There’s a sense in which Cashback does work as a rom-com, but to call it that doesn’t begin to describe it in any meaningful sense. This has the aura about it of a project which the writer-director has been slaving away at for many, many years, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the script – various elements, such as no-one appearing to have a mobile phone, and Ben watching the 1984 Olympics on TV as a schoolboy (when the actor playing him in the present day was still an infant), suggest that this script was written in the mid-90s and took ten years to get produced.

Is it therefore a bit overdone? I would say so. The central romance is pleasingly underplayed and actually quite affecting, but it only really becomes central in the latter third of the film. Prior to this there is a huge amount of introspective and rather pretentious bibbling from Ben. The initial section has him bemoaning the failure of his relationship with Ryan’s character at great length and in much detail, and the direction and music suggest a significant tragedy is being recounted before our eyes. It is not: it is a student who briefly punched above his weight sitting around feeling sorry for himself and whining about it. Get a grip, man.

Fears that this was going to turn out to be ninety minutes of shoegazing were dispelled when the supermarket stuff got underway, introducing (and I quote) ‘a colourful cast of characters’. They include a couple of laddish morons, a psychotic store manager, and a kung fu obsessive. I get the impression the scenes with this lot are supposed to be funny. Hmm. Possibly I would have laughed more had I not been marvelling at what the hell Sainsbury’s were thinking of letting their company be depicted in this way. Are the staff of the chain’s shops genuinely a bunch of idiots, freaks, and weirdos? This pushes the ‘there is no bad publicity concept’ to its limit, surely.

And then we get to the really jawdropping stuff – Ben discovers he has the ability to freeze time, allowing him to wander about inside a split second while everyone else is oblivious to him. Is this a genuine power or some sort of magical-realistic device? I suspect the latter, but anyway, the important thing is what he chooses to do with this power. Does our hero try to avert little accidents and help people in difficult spots? He does not. He uses it to get a better appreciation of the beauty of the female customers at Sainsbury’s by (brace yourself, kiddies) stripping them of their clothes while they are frozen and then drawing nude pictures of them.

Or, to put it another way, molesting them. At no time does he really seem to consider that there is in fact something deeply creepy and prurient (not to mention morally reprehensible) about this, and the film seems A-okay about it too. It’s even implied that he does this to his girlfriend (although obviously Emilia Fox wasn’t up for the full monty, so to speak) and she seems perfectly okay with it when she eventually finds out. It’s just eeuchh. And if this wasn’t bad enough, it segues into a long sequence in which Ben recounts, in slightly tedious detail, the history of his sexual awakening and his relationship with pornography. The camera does a lot of leery dwelling-upon at this point.

At this point it looks like Cashback‘s going to turn out to be a grim magical-realist drama about male objectification of women, but then (after a bit more grim non-comedy and a hint that this is suddenly going to turn into a horror movie – it doesn’t) the romance suddenly kicks off. As I said, Fox and Biggerstaff are good enough to do a huge amount to redeem all the ugly, ugly stuff that’s already happened, but even then the film just can’t resist going down the exploitation route – there’s a subplot about Ben having to hire a stripper for a party, which is an excuse for some more T&A (even Emilia Fox is required to slip into something skimpy and sheer and cavort around a pole).

You know, when I finished watching Cashback I thought the closing stuff with Ben and Sharon’s relationship was sweet and well-played enough to off-set the nastiness of most of the rest of the film. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure that it is – given the prominence of the sex and nudity angle in the poster it may be that, rather than this being there as colour for the romance, the romance is just there as a fig leaf (so to speak) for the nudity and sexual content. (Although I’m also well aware of how little say directors often have in how their films are marketed.)

Hum. At the very least the two leads are very watchable (the nigh-on ten year age gap between them barely registers) and it’s shot and directed with very considerable ingenuity and technical skill. This still just means that talent is being put to the service of a largely unpleasant story – the fact that the director seems completely oblivious of how creepy and dubious much of his film is (let alone its inert pretentiousness) just makes Cashback even more baffling and uncomfortable to watch.

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