Cinema Review: Smashed

 
DIR: James Ponsoldt • WRI: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke  PRO: Jennifer Cochis, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling. DOP: Tobias Datum  ED: Suzanne Spangler  DES: Linda Sena  CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul 

This is a film about alcoholism. This is a film about love. Or this is a film about love that has formed through alcoholism, a love that needs to be drunk to survive. It is somewhat difficult to figure out which.

 

Smashed tells the story of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), a young married couple who get smashed on a pretty much everyday basis. Kate’s drinking leads her into some unpleasant and humiliating situations to the point where she finally decides to quit and join AA. Charlie continues drinking. Difficulty ensues.

 

Drunkenness can be a little black and white in narratives; it tends towards either comedy or tragedy and rarely falls between. There can be the formidable, violent alcoholic or the loveable, roguish drunk. What if the alcoholic is a young, attractive, twenty-something school teacher? Then that is unusual territory, which makes this a somewhat unusual film. Its tone is that of a drama with the kind of playful façade of a comedy. Kate often behaves atrociously but we never dislike her. She is neither hero nor villain, being perhaps just simply human. Winstead renders Kate with highly effective realism, her performance giving the film the emotional core without which it would likely seem quite empty.

 

The film hangs on its authentic depiction of its two central themes; love and addiction. Kate and Charlie’s relationship seems as healthy as any other, apart from all the drinking. They represent the kind of habitual comfort of a long term relationship, while also ultimately showing the fallibility of love. For this reason, the understated ending is highly poignant, but inevitable. Both Winstead and Paul give commendable performances throughout.

 

The film could not be called didactic. Sobriety does not solve all of Kate’s problems, but rather creates new ones. Perhaps, at its core, this is a film about the ambiguity of life. Life is not black and white, in the way that addiction isn’t, or love isn’t. For one obstacle overcome there will be several laying in wait. This may give the impression that Smashed is a cynical film, yet somehow it isn’t. There is a truth to it that is oddly uplifting.

 

Cathy Butler

85 mins

Smashed is released on 21st December 2012

Smashed – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: The Thing

Fire - scourge of the Thing

 

DIR: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. • WRI: Eric Heisserer, John W. Campbell Jr. • PRO: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman • DOP: Michel Abramowicz • ED: Peter Boyle, Julian Clarke, Jono Griffith • DES: Sean Haworth • CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen

A remake of a remake of a film based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. Yes, The Thing is immortal and continues to clone itself and survive by taking on different forms. The original celluloid Thing appeared in 1951’s The Thing from Another World, coming to life again in John Carpenter’s 1982 version The Thing, and resurfacing in the 2002 video game of the same name. Now we have Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s 2011 retelling of the story in the form of a prequel/remake/tribute act – a group of Scientists thinging out at a remote arctic outpost preparing to outwit a rabid, bloodthirsty alien, who can take on the form of its victims – just like Christmas at the partner’s family.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – very much a sub-Ripley type – is flown into Antarctica to bring her skills to bear on a creature discovered in an alien craft and now frozen in a block of ice laid out for science at the basecamp outpost populated by a group of cut-out-and-keep Norwegian scientists (‘crazy Swedes’ as Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady famously decried them). Needless to say science pisses the Thing off and it goes on a CGI-fuelled rampage.

Protective keepers of Carpenter’s version are probably going to have a problem with this film, but it’s actually not that bad – it’s not that good either mind. Heijningen Jr. sets out his stall early enough into the film and, after hinting at the tense paranoia that Carpenter plays with so well, decides to shift the emphasis of the film towards horror and gives them pesky scientists what’s coming to them. In doing so he employs some decent nods to Carpenter’s version (don’t axe me what) along the way, but basically it’s a who’s-next-to-die-and-in-what-way-will-they-be-mangled-by-the-various-proboscides-of-the-CGI’d-Thing, kind of thing.

The film is probably a bit like having the Thing itself around for dinner: entertaining enough but it outstays its welcome (after having your other guests for dessert tearing them into pieces in the process and ruining that new wallpaper) and fizzles out into an action yawn-fest for the last 15 minutes or so.

Nevertheless, if you don’t bring any pre-conceptions and loving memories of the 1982 film to the cinema, you’ll find this a half-decent film. Not as bad as it could have been and not as good as it should have been, The Thing is a mildly entertaining piece of schlock sci-fi, hoodie horror and, if nothing else, it will make you go home and watch Carpenter’s 1982 version again – and that’s a good Thing…

Steven Galvin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Thing is released on 2nd December 2011

The Thing – Official Website

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Make It Happen

Make It Happen
Make It Happen

DIR: Darren Grant • WRI: Duane Adler, Nicole Avril • PROD: Brad Luff, Anthony Mosawi, Duane Adler • DOP: David Claessen • ED: Scott Richter DES: Ray Kluga • CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Riley Smith, John Reardon, Tessa Thompson

Make It Happen is the next film to arrive out of the recent trend of dance-until-your-dreams-come-true feel-good flicks but interlaced within the subtext is a frighteningly appealing mistruth.

One of the things I find most thrilling about the experience of cinema is the almost magical escapism inherent in films made for the purposes of entertainment. Escapist films often mask more nefarious socials texts. Cinema itself is capable of binding people together in a chorus of phenomenal harmony, the likes of which is reminiscent of the principles articulated in Expressionist art – the audience experiences emotion as the mood of the film dictates. Cinema can inspire any response, from tears and laughter to revolution. More often than not, this great force of inspiration is used to satisfy the status quo, feeding conventional mythologies rather than truly challenging the way in which we think about our society and perhaps our own place in it. It is an overtly Hollywood practice to produce films about hard-working individuals, especially young people, making good on personal ambitions. Films like these fan the flames of the ‘American Dream’ mythology: ‘You can be anyone. You can do anything.’ You just have to sweat. Films like these forget entirely problems of racism, classism, ageism, sexism and all the terrible violence of our world.

Make It Happen is just the type of overly commercial and hyper-sentimentalised film that inspires young fame seekers to follow their dreams, arguably, to their peril. What might be most problematic about Make It Happen, in addition to its recycled theme, is the film’s friendly dishonesty. The film attempts to tell a tale of a hard-knock life, but in reality the majority of the films woes are brought upon itself. While the young, tragic, female protagonist of Make It Happen ends up dancing in a burlesque club after being rejected from one of the most prestigious dance schools in America, somehow she is cushioned from exploitation by an extraordinarily giving and supportive cast of players. These players seem to appear and disappear as is convenient to the plot and consistently work to bring a bubblegum sensibility to an already watered-down and tired story. If you get a sense of déjà vous while watching this film, don’t worry; you’re not having a mini seizure. You saw this all before when you sat through Save the Last Dance. Only this time there’s more white people…and significantly more pouting.

The only redeeming quality is the energetic dance sequences, which increase in choreographic dynamism before, of course, reaching a climax toward the end of the film. The well-staged dance routines are reminiscent of a Broadway musical and several even pay homage to the respectable tradition of burlesque dance, a point which is made loud and clear to the audience, as if to say ‘She’s not a stripper – it’s much more classy than that!’ The unconventional spectacle of burlesque was at one time a naughty gentleman’s dirty pleasure but today the tradition is quite tame compared to our ever-increasing exposure to obscenity. In this way, the burlesque can be viewed with the type of fascination with which we might view the cancan dances in Paris: the tradition holds cultural and historical significance and should, therefore, be kept alive. Unfortunately, what could have been an original twist to the same old story becomes a lesson for our female protagonist on being more feminine – a skill she apparently must acquire before the Chicago School of Music and Dance will allow her dreams to come true.

Despite some high points, Make It Happen is sub-textually problematic, focusing perhaps on marketability rather than message. What we are left with is an unoriginal, sappy and borderline offensive film that inspired me to do nothing but cynically quip: wouldn’t it be great if it were really that easy?

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