Thursday, 21 January 2010

What I've Been Watching - Films on DVD - January

C4085FF8-C8DD-4317-992B-9CE348D6711F.jpgSunshine Cleaning (2009)
Sunshine Cleaning is a film by the producers that brought you 2006's Little Miss Sunshine. It tells the story of two sisters, played by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, who start their own company cleaning houses after suicides, murders, or generally gruesome deaths.

The film very much sticks to the same formula that made Little Miss Sunshine a success: humour, darkness, family, and Alan Arkin. The problem is it's not as good. If you're going to market a movie on the success of the first, you need to either make it different enough that it's not fair to compare them, or so great that it doesn't matter.

It's a pity, because there is a lot to like. The performances of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are superb, and they give a lot of depth to the two leads. It's well written and it's also nice to see a movie with female leads that's not a romantic comedy/horror. The balance between dark subject matter and humour is well navigated, and the idea of death being difficult to clean-up works as a good metaphor for what's happened in each of the characters' lives.

In summation: "a difficult second album".

79B47434-8070-4010-9971-48A58D360C5D.jpgPi (1998)
Pi is directed by Darren Aronofsky and is his first foray into the world of film. The main character, Max, is a mathematician who believes patterns exist not only in nature, but society. He aims to prove this by finding a pattern in the stock market.

It's impossible to talk about the film without mentioning the way it's shot. Told entirely from the lead's point of view: it's in black and white, uses strange camera angles, slow frame rates, and dream sequences with brains. All of this is designed to show us how the main character sees the world: distorted, intense but with an underlying order he can't quite grasp.

The movie does a good job of showing the madness and obsession of genius: the protagonist can be viewed as either entirely delusional or as someone who is really close to grasping a reality no one else can see.

The movie succeeds in a lot of ways, however, as someone who knows a bit about maths, it annoyed me that the maths used was so broad and da-Vinci-code-like. As a consequence, the film failed to convince me of the protagonist's genius, and allowed me only to see his madness and obsession. It almost pains me to say that a much less ambitious film, A Beautiful Mind, did a better job of keeping this balance.

5C8A8F05-14C6-42D3-8B4D-A90CC3727B4D.jpgSideways (2006)
Sideways stars Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged divorcee who is going to be best man for his old college friend, played by Thomas Hayden Church. Before Giamatti gets married, they go off for a weekend together in Tuscan, where one wants to drink wine and play golf, and the other to "sow his wild oats" while he still can.

Sideways is a movie which has a lot going for it: the script, characters and story are all work together to produce a believable world that's easy to become invested in. Giamatti gives a faultless performance of pain, regret and longing as he allows us to root for his character despite the idiosyncrasies and pretension he displays.

If the film has any faults, it's that it's best scene is half-way through the movie. Those of you who have seen the movie will remember the point where Giamatti compares himself to Pinot Noir. After that, I felt as though the film almost ran out of things to say - That scene gives us everything we need to know about his character, and tells us everything about the relationship that is about to develop. Action movies normally save their best set-piece until last, given this is a 'conversation' movie, it's a pity it didn't do the same.

Despite what I considered a mis-step, I still really enjoyed the movie, and I'm sure I'll revisit its rich, developed characters at some point in the future.


  1. Funnily enough I watched Sunshine Cleaning for the first time this week and I agree entirely - it's a good film, and had Little Miss Sunshine not existed and been made by the same people I may even have called it great but I'm really glad I saw it and highly recommend it to those who haven't seen it.

    Saw Sideways a while back and enjoyed it, not as much as critics appeared to, but I'm glad I saw it.

  2. Saw Sideways last week. It had a lot going for it, I thought. I thought Hayden Church's character was underdeveloped, but maybe that allowed Giamatti to shine more.