14 April 2010

Moore Than A Feeling

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

I saw a Julianne Moore double feature this week in the form of much-acclaimed romantic drama A Single Man (not to be confused with a certain excellent Coen Brothers film) and multiple-personality horror Shelter.
Shelter opens on Cara Jessop, a skeptical psychologist, condemning a death row inmate to execution with her conclusion that multiple personality disorder does not really exist. Her father is determined to open her mind, to which end he's referred her to a number of patients suffering from the disorder. The latest is Adam, who violently and physically lapses into the persona of David, a disabled boy who was murdered several years before. As more personalities emerge, Cara discovers that Adam personifies a number of other murder victims, and gradually begins to consider the impossible as the bounds of faith and science are stretched.

Screenwriter Michael Cooney also brought us classics such as Jack Frost (no, not the Michael Keaton one, the other one) and its sequel Jack Frost 2- Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman. So this was never going to be The Exorcist was it? If anything, the script is the very weakest part of Shelter. Cooney has no real flair for dialogue and is often over the top in his impatience to get to the creepier parts of each scene. He also brazenly evokes "ill-conceived Hollywood movies" as a reason for Cara's skepticism, while the film still wears Night of the Living Dead on its sleeve as an influence, with frequent mentions by Cara's hipster brother. There's an obvious debt to Romero as Adam's conditions take a supernatural turn. Paradoxically, this doesn't bring the whole film tumbling down, and I actually liked it, in a weird way.
For one thing, the supernatural side to proceedings has not been telegraphed in the trailers, and this at least distinguishes the film from Cooney's other scripts around the same theme, namely Identity and The I Inside. And the reliably excellent Julianne Moore acts everyone off the screen, to say nothing of how much classier she is than your usual female horror lead. Then again, there's some decent support from Jeffrey DeMunn and John Peakes. The big weak link is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Adam. See Christian Bale in American Psycho for how well a psychologically unbalanced but good looking bloke can be done- Rhys-Meyers is risible here. He hams it up and fails to bring anything to the table.

Avid readers will notice that my review for Den of Geek has a 3/5 rating affixed, but in hindsight, it's closer to a 2/5. Maybe a 2.5/5. The point is that while Shelter may be horror by numbers, it's genuinely unsettling in places, and doesn't massively outstay its welcome in 112 minutes, a long running time for a horror flick like this. It's certainly not the 1/5 film that the other rather scarce reviews on the web have declared it, even if it's not going to give any hardened horror fans a sleepless night. Moore elevates the script, the direction is even and capable, and the film doesn't rely on sound editing for its scares. The best film containing the phrase "Satan-worshipping mountain witches" that you'll see this year.

Shelter is playing in select cinemas nationwide.
Elsewhere, in A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George Falconer, an English professor whose partner Jim died eight months prior to the beginning of the film. We find him at the beginning of the day he can't take it anymore and that decides he's going to end his life after just one last day. He goes about saying goodbye to his loved ones, including best friend Charley, and discovering something new in the obsession of a young student. As George goes about his final day, he sees everything for the last time, and thus appreciates it all for the first time.

You may have seen perfume ads that looked like this, but you haven't seen a perfume ad with as much depth as this. At one point, a flashback enables us to see Matthew Goode as Jim, in his pants, in black and white, on a beach. The Hugo Boss logo never arrives, but the visual sensibility of fashion designer-cum-director Tom Ford isn't to be sneered at altogether. For the most part, it really pays off quite well, with milky visuals characterising George's humdrum existence without Jim. And when some of the beauty in life that George has forgotten about shines through, it blushes into colour. Not a subtle device, but a highly effective one. The art direction is also superb, wonderfully evoking the 1960s.

As I've said, it's a handsome film that also has depth, due in no small part to the performances it offers. Colin Firth really should make films like this all the time, because he's clearly a tremendous actor. Fair play to him if he likes those other films, but there's nothing as powerful in Mamma Mia as his constrained fury when he realises that Charley has singularly misunderstood him. Nor does St. Trinian's have anything as gleeful as his deadpan threat to kill the boy who lives next door because he keeps pretending to shoot him every day. A Single Man really showcases his talents in a way I can't remember any other film matching. Julianne Moore holds her own against him, making a comparatively brief but very memorable appearance as a glamorous spinster. She and Firth are what makes the film such a compelling watch.

A Single Man is gloriously shot and oddly life-affirming for a film about a man who decides to commit suicide. It's a bittersweet drama that boasts great performances from its cast and a strong core to keep the more enquiring mind occupied. It's a near overwhelmingly visual debut for Ford, to the point that you almost scoff when numerous characters tell a bereft but well-coiffed George how terrible he apparently looks. Sharp suits and trendy glasses may be the order of the day, but there's just as much substance as style to be found here.

A Single Man comes to DVD and blu-ray on 7th June.
If you've seen either of these films, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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