30 August 2014

Capsule Reviews: The Inbetweeners 2, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For & Locke

The Inbetweeners 2 (Morris & Beesley, Film4, 2014) 

Sophomoric sequel that bucks impossibly low expectations by out muscling its uneven predecessor on the laugh front. Only fleetingly cinematic, the film none the less honours the tone of the original televisual material (which ran from 2008-10) more satisfactorily, pushing its band of reprobates through the ringer, rarely glamorising or rewarding their social incompetence. The first feature, which was colossal box-office hit in 2011, ran afoul of offensive female characterisation, obvious gags and an ill-fitting desire to tie a bow around the lives of these thoroughly undeserving misfits . By that movie's conclusion all three had accrued impossibly attractive girlfriends and contentedness with their future prospects. Here (slight SPOLIER alert) one of them gets dumped, another desperately ingests urine directly from a member and they all suffer sunstroke. That's more like it.

Cringe-inducing identifiability is once again the name of the game, and that carries confidently into the improved jokes and character work. Added points for the poncey but amusingly honest depiction of trust-fund harbouring, “gawp yeh” eco-warriors.  

Grade - B-

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez, Miramax, 2014)

If “Sin City” was released now, would the reviews be as rapturous as they were in 2005? Based on the lukewarm reaction to this belated sequel, probably not. Robert Rodriguez's follow-up hits the same aesthetic beats as its predecessor, just with less vigour and novelty. The original feature was an ambitious experiment, a direct and often successful attempt to demonstrate the fusion of cinema and graphic art within a complete package. Now such cultural considerations seem redundant, especially in light of Marvel's box-office supremacy. Exploring the relationship between film and comics isn't insightful, it's adhering to the de facto business model. The result is a needless tour through a uniquely debauched underworld.

Visually Sin City remains stunning, but Rodriguez isn't interested in the stories or set-pieces, they all feel depressingly perfunctory. Instead the film-maker lumps on violence, pastiche and nudity, elevating them to centre stage, where in the past they merely acted as knowingly applied additives. Like the 2005 original there are three central stories, all of which fall short, despite the middle (and longest) section benefiting from a staggeringly committed Eva Green. Other new recruits include a watchable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a flat Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen, who growled with a lot more charm 9 years ago). Old character arcs are reheated lazily, lost amid the lurid but superficial lustre of the picture's memorable surface. Also, has the point where we can reasonably expect Jessica Alba to communicate a character's internal strife not passed? Alba's vengeance fuelled denouement (which has Bruce Willis jobbing from beyond the grave) is stupefyingly dull. The actress - radiant as ever - is blanker than an unused whiteboard. The same could reasonably be said for the film as a whole.  

Grade - C-

Locke (Steven Knight, A24, 2013)

Conceptually Steven Knight's auto-mobile bound drama encourages comparison with “Buried” and “Phone Booth”. In execution it probably surpasses both. I imagine few producers got goosebumps when Knight pitched the idea of a film set within a single vehicle, its inhabitant a level-headed Welsh bloke (Tom Hardy) fielding calls from an assortment of everyday faces. However, Knight cleverly utilises the very cornerstones of modern human philosophy (family, professional purpose and past) to inform his slow-burning but intimate screenplay. Every certainty is stripped from Hardy's life, the film distilling his existence to a series of big questions, leading to deeply involving introspection.

Hardy's portrayal of the titular construction worker is intense, but the actor continues to demonstrate an achingly human touch, creating an admirable entity, believably haunted by the poor life choices which beset us all The picture hangs on Hardy's broad shoulders, the actor bearing the weight commendably. Visually “Locke” is a joy, surprising given that it's largely set on the M6 motorway. With a parade of artful dissolves and a necessary appreciation of Hardy's presence, Knight's camera creates an enchanting and suitably despairing trip down a rabbit-hole flanked by service stations. “Locke” is fascinating to absorb, and beautifully lit, empowering the engaging narrative quandaries at its heart.

Grade - B+

Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2014


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