Archive for Toby Jones

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, British Horror, Compelling Cinema, Enigmatic Films, Giallo, Independent Cinema, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Horror, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The sense of atmosphere in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is so thick, you could chop it with a machete, and that’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating. More a character study (and a study of a specific time and place in film history) than an outright horror movie, Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO nonetheless has a pervading, unsettling mood throughout.

Toby Jones (probably best known for playing Truman Capote in 2006’s INFAMOUS) plays Gilderoy, a mild-mannered Englishman who seems to have mostly done sound for children’s shows and nature programs back home, is somehow plucked from his small existence and inserted into an Italian horror movie studio. The vibe is completely 1970s, at the high of the giallo craze. Gilderoy is a fish out of water, and there’s more than a little Kafka in his situation. Many of his co-workers do not speak English. Those who do, specifically the film’s producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the mysterious director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino), are tall, intimidating men whose comments to Gilderoy can sometimes seem more like threats.

Gilderoy is not really sure why he was chosen for this project, especially based on his previous work, but, as Francesco tells him at one point, there are people dying to do his job for free, so he should be happy to do it. The implication being that he should be willing to do it for no money, which he isn’t. But trying to get reimbursed for his flight to Italy alone is an ongoing dilemma, as he keeps getting shuttled from Francesco, to his secretary Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou), to the Accounting Department. It’s quite clear that the studio isn’t very eager to pay for anything unless it really has to. At one point, the guy in accounting tells Gilderoy that there was no record of a flight leaving England the time he said he flew, and that they cannot pay him back. By then, Gilderoy is so frustrated (since he clearly was on this supposedly non-existent flight!) that he begins to lose his cool, and the worm finally begins to turn.

For hardcore film fans, BERBERIAN is a fascinating look at a side of cinema we rarely see. Sure, we’ve seen the making of a film from the actors’ point of view, or the director’s, but this movie finally gives us entrée into the studio where the sound engineers and foley artists do their thing. We get to see which vegetables and fruits, when smashed or otherwise destroyed, make for the best sound effects, and how a scream can be amplified and manipulated to set your hair on end.

I thought the technical aspects in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO were fascinating. But I didn’t find much of a plot here. Not that this is particularly detrimental in BERBERIAN’s case. As his ordeal goes on, Gilderoy feels more and more cut off from the outside world, and the movie does a good job of making us feel as claustrophobic as he does. The only people he sees every day are Francesco and the other sound guys. Occasionally Santini stops by to strut around and tell Gilderoy how wonderful he is for the project (meanwhile laughing behind his back in Italian with Francesco). There are also actors and actresses who come and go, spending time in sound booths to either dub dialogue or make vocal sound effects. Or scream.

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It is one of the screaming actresses, Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro)  who befriends Gilderoy. She’s the only one who really seems interested in him as a person, and who confides in him that Santini has been sexually harassing her (as he seems to be doing with all his actresses, some of whom are more responsive to his advances), when he’s not treating her and her co-stars like garbage when they don’t scream just right for his satisfaction. She decides to get revenge on Santini and the production in a way that is very effective (if bloodless).

There are scenes of menace. One particular scene involves Gilderoy waking up to someone thrashing his door and wildly shaking the knob. When he grabs a knife to investigate, he wanders out into the hall, eventually finding himself in a screening room, where the projector starts running and plays footage on the wall behind him of everything that had just happened (inside his room!).

The film the crew is making, concerning 16th century witches who rise to fulfill a curse, and who are in the tunnels beneath an equestrian school—the Italian title translates as “The Equestrian Vortex—bares more than a passing resemblance to Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA (1977), which involved witches and a girls’ dancing school. Of course, we do not see much footage from the film. Early on, we see the opening credits. But the rest of the time, we only know the story based on the recitation of lines by the actors in the sound booths.

Gilderoy is clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter of the film. Whether he is ripping radishes from their stems to replicate the sound of hair being torn from a witch’s head, or listening to women scream over and over (as they are forced to do retakes), he clearly is not thrilled with what he’s doing, even if he realizes it is a unique opportunity for someone who has only done sound for films for the telly back in England (and, despite his age, who still lives with him mum).

His only contact with his former life is in the form of letters from his mother, which start out mundane enough, and which get stranger as time goes on. When an actress recites the contents of one letter, line for line, in front of him, you know something sinister is afoot.

As he is forced to redo sound for scenes over and over, we start to wonder how long this job is going to last, and then wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave. We never see him go outside. He is either in the studio (which is most of the time), or in his room. If there is horror here, it’s the horror of being trapped in an unpleasant place without knowing if you’ll ever escape. Because the longer Gilderoy stays there, the more it seems he won’t be permitted to leave.

The cast is quite good, led by Jones, who is one of those gifted actors who, because of how he looks and sounds, will never be a traditional leading man, but who you want to see more of. Aside from playing Capote in INFAMOUS, Jones’s Hollywood career has amounted mostly to small roles as a character actor (like playing one of the commentators in THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012),  so it’s nice to see him take center stage again in this smaller, British production.

The emphasis on technical details and atmosphere and subtle menace makes this a little different from the usual horror-related film. As I said early on, it’s much more interested in giving us a glimpse into one man’s life than scaring us, but the sense of dread is strong here, and seems quite real.

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Director Strickland has created a unique film that reaches in the direction of art. While it won’t appeal to everyone (it does move at a slower pace than most summer blockbusters), the audience that will appreciate it will obviously have a good time with it. I know I did.

I give BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Note: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has been having a very brief run in arthouse theaters in some cities. It is also currently available on some cable OnDemand services)

LL Soares gives  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO ~three and a half knives.

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YOUR HIGHNESS

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Fantasy Films, Magic, Monsters, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: YOUR HIGHNESS (2011)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a medieval castle. L.L. SOARES is dressed in period clothing, wandering about the place)

LS: So I was waiting for Michael to show up and accidentally fell into his hot tub time machine, and now I’m here, in this place. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to my own time.

(A mechanical BIRD flies in through a window and lands on LS’s shoulder)

BIRD: Movie review! Movie review!

LS: Do you bring word from Mr. Arruda about our review this day?

BIRD: Nope. He’s reviewing another movie called HANNA. You’re on your own for this one.

LS: Is that so! That dastardly villain tricked me!

BIRD: You were tricked. HA HA.

LS: Well, since I’m trapped here, I might as well review the new Danny McBride comedy, YOUR HIGHNESS. Especially since it features a host of fantasy elements like dragons and minotaurs.

BIRD: Yep, get to the review already.

LS: Okay. Well, I’ve been a fan of comedian Danny McBride for a while now. I first noticed him in the supporting role as Red in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008), which made me seek out his first movie in a leading role, THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006), a small indie film where he played an obnoxious jerk of a karate instructor. FOOT FIST made the film festival circuit for a bit and was McBride’s ticket to bigger things. He also had a stand-out role as the pyrotechnics guy in TROPIC THUNDER (2009). Unfortunately, he’s also appeared in some clunkers like 2009’s LAND OF THE LOST.

For those who’ve been following his career, McBride’s best role thus far has been on the HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, where he plays Kenny Powers, a former baseball star who was fired for steroid use and is trying to make a comeback. Kenny is a complete jerk (see a pattern here?) but despite all of his offensive behavior, there’s something strangely likable about him. EASTBOUND AND DOWN is a terrific show, but can someone make such an unpleasant type of character work in a big budget Hollywood film?

BIRD: Tell us already!

LS:  Well, yes and no. YOUR HIGHNESS is the first leading role for McBride in a movie that was made for a big studio, and it’s an uneven affair. McBride plays Prince Thadeous, a pompous ass and  a coward, who stayed home while his heroic brother Fabious (James Franco) was out defending the kingdom and slaying monsters. When Fabious returns from a recent quest where he slew a monstrous Cyclops (he’s brought the severed head back as a souveneir), Thadeous is enraged to be back in his much-loved brother’s shadow. And not only is Fabious back, he has brought a girl with him, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) who had been a prisoner in the Cyclops’s tower. Fabious declares that they will be married and that he wants Thadeous to be his best man. But Thadeous would much rather sneak out and get stoned with bogmen and his constant companion, his court jester Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker).

Thadeous’s mettle, however, is put to the test, when Fabious’s wedding is interrupted by the wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), the master of the Cyclops and the imprisoner of Belladonna, who demands his virgin back (he has planned to use her in an upcoming ritual). Fabious and his men attempt to protect her, but no one has a chance against Leezar’s magic, especially when three witches come to his aid (one of which is his mother), and Belladonna is whisked away to Leezar’s tower.

Fabious goes on a journey to save his bride to be, and King Tallious (Charles Dance) demands that Thadeous join Fabious on his quest. “It’s high time you became a man.”

What unfolds of course, is the familiar Hollywood tale of redemption, which McBride molds into his own image, with mixed results. We are basically treated to a parody of those medieval quest movies where there are ogres, dragons, and wizards. Here, they’re all played for laughs, including a perverted Yoda-like character called the White Wizard (Fabious goes to him for advice, but the muppet-like wizard’s motives are a bit disturbing), a five headed dragon, a minotaur, and a female warrior out for revenge, played by Natalie Portman, who is quite ravishing in this role. Too bad she’s not onscreen all that much.

Early on in the quest, Fabious’s men betray him (it turns out they’ve been working for Leezar). Led by Damien  Lewis (probably best known for his role in HBO’s BAND OF BROTHERS, but also check him out in the DVD of the canceled show LIFE, which was actually pretty great, and the indie movie KEANE (2004)) as Boremont, the soldiers attempt to enslave Fabious and bring him to their master, but he gets away, and it’s Fabious, Thadeous and Courtney on their own to find an enchanted sword made from a unicorn’s horn and saving Belladonna from her prison.

BIRD: Don’t forget me.

LS: Oh yeah, Fabious has a pet bird in the movie, but he’s a mechanical creature. A steampunk anachronism of sorts, which was obviously a tip of the hat to the original CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), which featured a robotic owl.

(BIRD begins to sing)

LS: Oh be quiet, you foul fowl. I am doing a review here.

BIRD: Get bent!  (the BIRD takes off, taking a poo as it goes. LS wipes at an oil stain on his shirt)

LS (shaking his fist at the sky) You mechanical menace!

Um, excuse me.

Overall, the movie is funny, but there are few real laugh-out-loud moments  I’m not sure how well McBride’s obnoxious jerk character translates into a fantasy scenario, but he does have his moments. McBride is a really funny guy and I don’t think this movie was as good of a showcase of his talents as it could have been.

James Franco is excellent as Fabious, the heroic and dimwitted brother to Thadeous. He’s so nice and so selfless in his motives that it’s hard not to like him. Even Thadeous can’t help but envy him.

(A DRAGON sticks his head into a window)

DRAGON: Yeah, Franco is always good. Unless he’s hosting the Oscars.

LS: Portman, as the warrior Isabel (she’s like Xena’s cousin!), is great in her scenes, and what a nice butt we get to see in a bathing-in-the-river scene. And Rasmus Hardiker is terrific as Courtney. In fact, the entire cast is quite good here. I just wish the script could have been a bit funnier.

Director David Gordon Green started out making small, intense films like GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) and UNDERTOW (2004), which were both effective, independent dramas. Then he somehow got in with the “wrong crowd” and became a big-budget comedy director. The difference in the movie styles is unsettling. Green’s comic output has included PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (which also starred Franco and had McBride in a big supporting role) and episodes of EASTBOUND AND DOWN (McBride’s television series), and while he is a skillful director, his comedy work is pretty quirky and not necessarily mainstream (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just won’t appeal to everyone). This works in something like EASTBOUND, where the boundaries are not so tight, and there’s freer reign to let McBride be as unlikable as he wants. In the context of a commercial Hollywood movie, which has its own set of rules, things are a little more restricted, and the jokes don’t always work.

Perhaps it’s the fantasy element of the movie that makes everything seem a little off its rhythm. The special effects are fine, and there are some interesting scenes, including a bizarre run-in with Amazon warriors in the forest, led by a strange, child-like king (despite his large physical size) who creates monsters by submerging his hand into a pot of what looked like porridge, and having it coming out the other end as a beast rising from the ground (a quite elaborate, and fascinating concept). The scene with the minotaur is also pretty good, including a scene where the monster bears an erection and tries to molest poor Courtney (Thadeous severs the appendage after they defeat the monster, and wears it around his neck).  And a scene where a traitorous footman named Julie (Toby Jones) is stripped—revealing a very strange secret—is quite funny.

Overall, I liked YOUR HIGHNESS. There was enough good acting and good direction to keep me interested. And certain scenes were pretty funny. I just wish there were more laughs throughout the film.

I give it two and a half knives. Check it out at a matinee or wait til it comes to Netflix. Either way, you’re better off renting EASTBOUND AND DOWN instead.

(BIRD flies back)

BIRD: Time to go back. Time to go back.

LS: What are you talking about?

(BIRD raises a wing toward a sign that reads “This Way to Get Back to the Future.“)

LS: Splendid. I can go home now!

BIRD: I’m a good bird. I’m a good bird.

LS: Oh shut up!

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives YOUR HIGHNESS2 and a half knives!