Sunday, April 27, 2014


BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY is a cool dark comedy feature from first time writer-directors Geoff Moore and David Posamentier. It stars Sam Rockwell as a bored suburban pharmacist married to a hyper competitive wife (Michelle Monaghan).  He falls for a glamourous rich bored housewife (a wonderfully slick Olivia Wilde) and their joint use of drugs gives him the confidence to get petty revenge on the people who've held him down until the drug use spirals out of control and the DEA get on his back.  The whole thing gets unravelled in an elegant manner and despite the overall tone of wry dark humour, perfectly captured in Jane Fonda's voice-over and the ironic sound-track, there's actual deep emotion  in there. The final scene between Rockwell and Wilde subverts the fantasy elements of the film in a genuinely affecting way.  I really want to see what these directors do next.  I also really want to see more of Sam Rockwell. Why isn't he a bigger star? When he can do proper gonzo goofball comedy and proper depth? 

BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY has a running time of 91 minutes.  It was released earlier this year in the USA and is currently available on DVD.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WE ARE THE BEST - a touching coming-of-age comedy

WE ARE THE BEST is an absolute joy! A funny, moving, authentic look at life as a young teenage girl rebelling against everything, no-one taking you seriously, and getting your heart broken. Its bittersweet tone and effortless depiction of close female friendship reminded me of GHOST WORLD - also based on a graphic novel - although the tone is less nihilistic than that. In fact, it felt closer to the delightful SON OF RAMBOW, showing just how much can be achieved by young naive kids who just don't know any better.

The story begins with a fight to control noise.  Bobo and Els are two teen punks in early 80s Sweden, constantly trying to block out the sounds of their fighting or partying loving but ultimately lackadaisical parents.  They try to hide out at their local youth club but under sound-attack from a shitty amateur prog-rock band they decide to book out the rehearsal space and, hey!, why not start a punk band!  This is, of course, the perfect idea because the key point of punk is that you didn't have to play, or play well, to participate. It was an inherently amateur concept. That said, when they see geeky Hedwig play classical guitar at a school concert, they realise they need her musical stylings and bring her into their group.  What follows is your classic SCHOOL OF ROCK style young kids form a band, go up against the prejudices of the community, and put on an awesome show.

That all sounds pretty hackneyed but the focus of this film isn't really on practice montages and winning some concert competition, but just on spending time with these friends and seeing how they interact.  I absolutely adored the feisty Klara with her boundless enthusiasm, absolute conviction and hilarious appropriation of adult terms.  Thoughtful introspective Bobo is something of an enigma, but the heart of the film - she's the one who perceives that geeky Hedwig might not want her hair shaved into a Mahican.  

A lot of the hilarity comes from seeing these guys write rebellious songs about hating their PE teacher, or debating whether God is a Fascist in these ponderous earnest tones. But what elevates this movie into something better and more worthwhile is the delicate way in which Lukas Moodysson essays the kids' relationships with their parents and the shifting loyalties between each other.  It's so rare to see childhood friendship depicted on screen with anything like authenticity - instead we just get those awful generic high school movies - and that makes WE ARE THE BEST all the more welcome.

Just one final note, for those of you familiar with Swedish auteur, Lukas Moodysson's previous films - the harrowing, uncompromising  LILYA 4-EVER and the more tedious but earnest MAMMOTH - don't be surprised when you find that WE ARE THE BEST is utterly different in tone and concern, and that the only commonality is the immediacy of the dogma-lite shooting style.

WE ARE THE BEST has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated 15 in the UK for very strong language. 

WE ARE THE BEST played Venice, Toronto and London 2013. It was released last year in Sweden, Iceland, Spain, Norway and Finland and it was released earlier this month in the Netherlands and Estonia. It will be released on April 18th in the UK and Ireland. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014


VIJAY AND I is a risible and borderline offensive farce in which a disillusioned actor (Moritz Bleibtrau) exploits the mistaken announcement of his death to see what his family and friends really think about him. With the help of his north Indian friend (Danny Pudi - COMMUNITY), the actor browns-up, gets a beard and a turban and starts to court his apparently grieving wife (Patricia Arquette).  Clearly, it's absurd to think that a woman could sleep with a man and, despite some waxing, not realise it's her husband. But we have to give any kind of farce the benefit of the doubt, as we would with TOOTSIE or MRS DOUBTFIRE. No, where this film fails is in its lack of real laughs and lack of real insight.  Both those films saw genuine emotion in their relationships and proper guilt-ridden conflicts. By contrast, "Vijay" seems petulant and spoiled - quite content to cause distress in order to get more respect, and indeed pussy, as a respected Indian man than as an actor playing a children's cartoon character. The problem is that the tone is ambiguous.  The directors should've gone for zanier farce or real relationship depth or something truly dark and depressing (DEATH TO SMOOCHIE style).  Instead we just have something very very odd, very unfunny and at times simply wince-inducing.   In fact, seeing the wonderful Patricia Arquette trying to play it straight - as though she were in a real drama - was the most painful thing of all. Avoid at all costs.

VIJAY AND I was released last year in Germany and Belgium and earlier this year in Italy and Hungary. It is available to rent and own.