This blog is going to be made up of two film reviews and of course a song to round it off.
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People (Weide, 2008)
I've been wanting to see this for quite a while, primarily because Simon Pegg is so damn likeable that he tends to make even weaker films more watch-able (the Jean-Baptiste Andrea directed crime farce Big Nothing springs to mind). Ironically it is that amiability regardless of role that is what holds this film back from being great, consigning it to the merely good category.
'How to Lose Friends' is the tale of Sidney Young (Pegg), a British journalist who in attempting to make his big break at an American celebrity magazine, encounters a large number of obstacles, the most sizable being his ability to annoy anyone he meets. The film is based on the memoir of Toby Young and shows inability to stay out of his own way.
It's fairly typical rom-com fare; Young meets and becomes infatuated with a young actress Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) while spending his most time with fellow journalist Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst).
A man trying to work out his own feelings while navigating an alien world (in this case the apparently shallow and cut throat world of magazine journalism) has been done plenty of times and that isn't necessarily a big issue for me. With genre films it comes down to the writing and performances to decide whether it raises itself above being a memorable example of the genre.
This one just about succeeds in that respect; i'd probably watch it again and i still remember most of the plot events, so kudos is due for that, but it struggles for the reason i mentioned above. Through no real fault of his own, Simon Pegg is partly responsible for this film not quite living up to what it could have been. It is clear from the writing and the narrative that Pegg's character is meant to be really very dislikeable, at least initially and one of the most important arcs is intended to be his move from that initial arrogant, pretentious fool to a character you want to be successful and, more importantly, happy. Maybe it's my pre-existing opinion of Pegg but he just isn't horrible enough; the majority of the things he does come across as awkward and foolish rather than antagonistic, especially when compared to the majority of celebrity and journalist characters that surround him and this takes away from the impact the change his character goes through. I felt sorry for him for the first two thirds of the film; a combination of pity and empathy, and though it does still work reasonably well, i suspect that wasn't what the director, or Toby Young, intended.
The bizarre thing about the complaint is that his performance is also one of the best things about the film. His fish out of water performance is done well and he's never been an actor who struggles with comic scenarios, whether verbal or physical. Dunst also does well as the journalist and aspiring author who has some pretty feisty internal conflicts going on as to the person she wants to be. She isn't an actress i've always been that fond of, probably as much due to the roles she's played as her performances but i was impressed here.
When his supposedly obnoxious behaviour is so central to the plot, what should be a compliment (never before have i complained about someone not being unpleasant enough) becomes a criticism.
Overall it's an enjoyable, if a little generic film, both made and hampered by Simon Pegg's performance in the lead role.
The Descent (Marshall, 2005)
I've seen this a couple of times before last nights viewing and it is definitely one of the best examples of British horror made in the past decade.
It's a plot so ripe for tension, discomfort and jump scares that it would have been a damn shame if it had been made by someone who'd done a poorer job of it. The story of a group of thrill seeking women who go caving (exploring the various caves which run underneath Britain) and what they find down there. I don't want to say any more about the plot for fear of spoiling some of the best jump in your seat moments i can think of in recent horror films.
However i can still talk about the style of the film and th
e overall quality; there's plenty of it. Marshall captures the darkness and claustrophobia of caving so effectively that he's made sure i will NEVER give it a try. Darkness and being trapped are two of the most primal fears human beings can experience and 'The Descent' combines both to terrifying effect. It's well enough acted but the one flaw i could complain about is the manner in which, once in the caves, a couple of the characters are tough to distinguish, especially during the more frantic scenes, which inevitably means that it's more of a challenge to care about what happens to them.
That problem doesn't take away from what is a brilliantly executed horror/thriller that combines horror traditions born out of American films like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street' with recent British Horror elements from '28 Days Later' and Marshall's own 'Dog Soldiers'.
I definitely recommend that you watch it; for the braver horror fans wanting the full effect, watch it on your own in a pitch black room, for those with a weaker tolerance for horror maybe keep the lights on and surround yourself with friends.
Before i post today's song i want to clarify what i said last night. I intend to post pre-90's songs for the rest of this week but i intend to avoid a few of the more obvious bands; The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Jackson 5 etc. I'd hope anyone reading this knows a good chunk of the music by those bands so i want to post songs by bands which though still quite well known, aren't in that top echelon of popularity. Tonight's song is a cheesy one but it's one of my all time favourites and an undeniable classic.