Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)


Sightseers
Another film from the maker of ‘Kill List‘ and a return to horror, though with a very different tone. Where Kill List used hand-held cameras and a documentary feel to instil a sense of brooding menace, this uses the same techniques but undercut with a very black sense of humour. There is no laugh track and there are a few bloody scenes but this is not the juvenile feel of Inbred , compared to which it is both much funnier and much scarier.

It starts off with a keening wail, as an elderly lady, Carol, mourns her dead dog, for whose death she blames her daughter Tina (Alice Lowe). We later see in flashback that this appears to be at least partially justified. Alice is about to go on a caravan holiday with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). There is something very, very British about a caravan holiday and this desperately ‘woolley jumper’ naffness is played up nicely. All the same, neither Alice, Chris nor, for that matter Carol, are quite normal, even for caravanners and when Carol turns to Chris and whispers menacingly at him “I don’t LIKE you”, there is a bit of menace in the air. In these opening scenes, Carol and Alice seem to be mentally unwell, Carol controlling and malevolent, Alice as subservient, meek and damaged, and Chris looks to be the normal one, though we know that things will soon change.

As they drive away, Chris itemises all the highlights he has in store for Alice; to us cosmopolitan (almost anyone qualifies compared to Alice) viewers, these seem very pedestrian and twee (although I’ve been to and enjoyed most of them) but to someone so closeted and unworldly as Alice they seem exotic and daring; the tram museum at Crich, the Blue John Caverns, the Pencil Museum at Keswick, Fountains Abbey, Ribblehead Viaduct. It seems Chris has an overdeveloped sense of order and control issues. After some mildly oafish behaviour exhibited by a fellow visitor to the tram museum, we see that he has severe anger management issues also. He tries to keep this secret from Alice but she soon finds out and, much to Chris’ surprise, is perfectly happy with it. Soon, the pair’s holiday turns in to a serial killing spree.

A few interesting (to me) things stuck out about this film. Firstly, how much Chris’ obsession with bad behaviour in others struck a chord with the audience. At the tram museum, as the soon-to-be-victim oaf littered unapolagetically, there was a collective groan of disapproval and there was laughter as Chris ran him down ‘accidentally’ shortly after. It seems that littering joins being mean to puppies in the cinematographic hall of infamy deserving a violent death! Also there is something secure in Chris’ OCD targetting of people who, though surely undeserving of death in any real sense, can be said to ‘deserve it’ in the filmic sense – they had at least really offended him, even if unintentionally. When Alice gets involved, things get more chaotic and quite a bit scarier. The ending is both predictable and yet also satisfying – unlike Wheatley’s previous film, this one ends properly.

Lastly, the cheap gag on the poster about Chris’ being ginger – “death has a ginger face”. Well, all I can say is – who doesn’t know a ginger person with extreme anger management problems? I certainly do. It seems a bit of an easy stereotype. 😉

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Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012)


Silver Linings Playbook
I became aware of this film’s existance during the trailers before another movie. Unusually during that sitting, this trailer didn’t stink. It did, in its selection of scenes, spoil the impact of them in the film as a whole but, without them, I might not have bothered to make an effort to watch it, so I am, overall, grateful.

This is a romcom, sort of, with a social message, sort of. Both it’s leads suffer from mental illness, as do at least two other very major characters, and the relationships turn around these issues, and yet it doesn’t feel like an “issue-driven” movie, or preachy, nor are they cheaply exploited, although there are laughs in there. As the film begins Pat (Bradley Cooper) is taken out of hospital by his mother, Dolores (Jackie Weaver), against the doctors’ advice. It transpires that his 8-month incarceration was the condition of a plea-bargain with a court, following a serious assault of his wife’s lover after discovering them in flagrante. Pat seems unable to accept the depth of his, previously undiagnosed, bipolar mental illness issues. Nor does he seem aware of the depth of other people’s discomfort and fear of him. Having used his time to get physically fit, and with the ability to control his bipolar episodes most of the time (despite refusing to take his meds), Pat is determined to look for ‘the silver lining’ and win back his wife.

Invited to a meal by a friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), he is introduced to Ronnie’s sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, rapidly establishing herself as a truly remarkable actor), also with her own mental health issues, having recently lost her husband in a violent incident and having lost her job as a result of her (ahem!) inappropriate behaviour at work subsequently. The discussion between Pat and Tiffany, comparing medications, is funny and a little disturbing, particularly for the others present, and it’s where they first ‘click’. We know, despite Pat’s utter conviction that he is going to win his wife back, that this is the romantic couple the film is going to follow. When Tiffany blackmails Pat into entering a dance competition with her, by promising to deliver a letter to his wife, a romantic entanglement of some kind becomes utterly inevitable, but will it end well?

Pat’s own mental problems are not the only ones he has to deal with, nor is it just Tiffany’s he has to add to his own, because his father, Pat Snr (Robert de Niro) also demonstrates mental health problems, in the shape of irrational and obsessive behaviour about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he used to scout and from whose property he is banned, also for some unspecified violence. We are invited to wonder if Pat’s is an inherited condition, but it adds more than a cod-diagnosis, as it complicates the ‘blame game’; when looking at how Pat’s parents try to cope with having him in their house (his estranged wife having sold theirs and moved on), the difficulties go more than one way.

There are a couple of scenes in which we get to see just how difficult it could be in treating Pat as a ‘regular guy’ – he doesn’t always react in ways that you would predict or find easy to cope with. Despite all this, in many ways, this is a standard by-the-numbers romantic comedy but the realistic portrayal of Pat, Tiffany and Pat Senior as rounded characters, as well as being people trying to cope with their medical issues, elevates this above much of the standard fare, and the chemistry between the leads is (for me) fully engaging.