4 March 2013

Little Gems

I want to write a piece about films I've managed to discover purely because of the actor that stars in them or are films that have encouraged me to seek out other films with the same actors in. These films all have a special place in my heart and are ones I would have enjoyed even if my favourite actors weren't involved.
Kiss Kiss, Bang...
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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
 We will start with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). This was a film that I saw on a whim after wanting to see what Robert Downey Jr had to offer. I've always liked Downey but after seeing Sherlock Holmes at the cinema, I was left feeling unimpressed (on a second viewing on dvd however, I grew to love the film). I'd heard a lot about this film and hearing that it was a dark comedy, I thought I'd give it a whirl. I'm glad I did, it now stands as one of my all-time favourites. Downey gives a stellar performance as the main character Harry, who, after a case of mistaken identity, gets shoved into the world of Hollywood. Paired up with a private detective in the shape of Val Kilmer as the unforgettable Gay Perry, Harry goes on the pretense of researching a role to keep up appearances after hiding from the law. The quick-fire, witty dialogue is one of the reasons this film keeps the audience engrossed, along with the plot and the narrative. The movie is set up as a modern film noir, with Downey providing a quirky voice-over, grabbing people's attention with its non-conventional lines. Most notable is Downey's acting-he goes from clueless, lovable idiot to ass-kicking hero all in one film whilst staying believable as the character develops. Val Kilmer, not known for his comic roles, is the one with the memorable one-liners. This, teamed with Downey's perfect comic timing in his actions, makes them one of the best on-screen duos in comedy for a long time. Michelle Monaghan co-stars as Harmony, managing to portray a ditzy wannabe-actress without coming across as an exaggerated air-head. A film with a lot of heart and a lot of laughs without coming across as slapstick, I give this film 5 out of 5 *****.

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Next on my list is a film I discovered whilst channel-surfing one late Friday night. On first viewing, I enjoyed the quirkiness of Choke (2008) immensely but never gave it a second thought until a few months ago when I re-watched it to provide myself with a wider range of Sam Rockwell films. I discovered that Rockwell has the ability to make me feel a variety of emotions towards one character; pity, anger, humour, frustration and fondness were all felt during the course of the film. Rockwell plays Vince, a sex-addict who is agonisingly trying to sort through his life, albeit with complications. It centres around his relationship with his mother (played wonderfully by Anjelica Huston), complicated by her Alzheimer's disease and his frustrations of finding out about his past and what made him the man is today. Rockwell gives another scene-stealing performance one after another, and the scenes where he simulates choking as part of a con, is so convincing, it almost makes you squirm in your seat.
Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, this film also relies on a voice-over provided by the main character yet this one differs to the previous film. It is a more laid-back, relaxed tone that guides the viewer on the same journey that Vince is also on. Compared to Kiss Kiss, Choke's tone is at a more easy-going pace yet it is still able to provide the same 'should-I-really-be-laughing-at-this' comedy that is a token of black humour. Kelly MacDonald also stars as the film's innocent female character, trying to guide Vince back to a normal way of being. Watching the film is like watching a man fight with his internal conscience as he tries to figure out whether to stay on his path of destruction, as symbolised in flashbacks or to start afresh, something MacDonald's character can provide. This film is edgy, eccentric without being too wacky and underneath it all, a journey of discovering oneself, I give this film 4 out of 5 ****.

Finally, on my list of rarely-discovered treasures is Dead Man's Shoes (2004). I sought this film after seeing another film starring Paddy Considine by the name of Last Resort (2000) at university. I was so struck by his realistic performance in that film, that I immediately (after doing some research) went and saw this film on DVD. Dead Man's Shoes is a complete contrast to the two previous films on this list and yet it sticks in my mind the most. The humour of the two aforementioned is completely replaced by the dark tone and the sombre mood in Dead Man's Shoes, a given considering it is a revenge film. The film follows Considine's character Richard as he goes after the brutal bullies who traumatised his younger brother with learning difficulties. Shot around the Peak District, the director Shane Meadows easily brings the sense of discomfort to the audience by conveying the starkness of each scene. The hand-held camera shots give it an almost-realistic feel, whilst each long shot of Considine's unwavering, silent stares is like a fuse to an explosion-the audience unsure to how he is going to react. The drug scene featured is the scene that stands out as being the key definition of this film-the quick shots of the bullies reacting to what they've taken interspersed with shots of Richard beginning his vengeance creates a jarring effect, with the audience not quite able to grasp what is real and what is just a figment of a drug trip. This makes Considine's appearances throughout the scene even more terrifying, his character going to all lengths to help his brother against his attackers. The tone throughout is sullen and the pace reflects this without letting the film drag. From beginning to end, the audience is on the edge of their seat, tense in finding out what will be the conclusion-a feeling that still lasts on multiple viewings. I urge everyone to seek out this film, I give it 5 out of 5 *****.

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