February 8, 2011

Confusion is sex

Like its title character, Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ Guardian comic strip-turned-graphic novel is sprightly, fickle and highly seductive

Also this week: It's Kind of a Funny Story, Paranormal Activity 2, I Spit on Your Grave(s)

Tamara Drewe (Sony)
 If there’s one thing Brit auteur Stephen Frears excels at, it’s the ability to put an inventive spin on almost any genre. Although this isn’t the first time Frears has taken a comedic jab at British society, Tamara Drewe’s farcical tone makes several refreshing detours. Thanks to sharp writing (from Simmonds’ source material and Moira Buffini’s adapted screenplay), a proficient cast and, no surprise here, rock-solid direction, a kitschy rom-com recipe quickly evolves into a dynamic dark comedy. 

Former big-nosed misfit Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton, of Bond girl fame) returns to her fictional hometown sporting short shorts and a new beak. Unequipped at handling her new sexpot status, she embraces multiple partners – married or otherwise – with such ramifications as envy, deceit and a fatal cow stampede.  

Setting the film in a stuffy writer’s retreat allows for a number of conflicts, the juiciest of which involves the marital downfall of its proprietor, a bestseller-pandering hack (Roger Allam), and his cuckolded wife (Tamsin Greig). Whenever the story falls prey to its myriad quirky tangents, this nasty dilemma inserts some much-needed realism. 

Being that Simmonds’ comic was influenced by Thomas Hardy’s late-nineteenth century novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, the film has a vaguely timeless aura. This is immediately noted on the DVD’s so-so commentary with Arterton and hunky co-star Luke Evans, where they point out how the opening shot could easily depict another century. That is, until Evans’ character takes a swig from a large plastic bottle. The duo spends a lot of time praising every element in the film, but there are a few intriguing revelations (who knew Allam donned a fat suit throughout the shoot?). Still, an alternate track with Frears, Buffini and Simmonds would’ve been muy appreciated. 

Frears does appear briefly for a sit down with Arterton, where they discuss Tamara’s film persona versus the comic. Also included is a fairly orthodox making-of that’s still worth your while. 

Also Available
After tackling heavyweight subjects like a drug-addled schoolteacher (Half Nelson) and a displaced minor-leaguer (Sugar), filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s cutesy third feature blows their winning streak. A gauche cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Breakfast Club, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Alliance) can’t settle on a mood or style, and thus feels undercooked on both ends. But the cast is appetizing, and funnyman Zach Galifianakis exhibits sorta-legit dramatic chops as one of the psych-ward’s hot-tempered patients. Extras: mini making-of, deleted scenes, outtakes, premiere footage. (For more behind-the-scenes goodness, read our interviews with Galifianakis and co-star Emma Roberts.)  

A worthy sequel in a ho-hum franchise, Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount) – not to be confused with Paranormal Activity 2 – features more of the same lo-rent spooks (random noises and, um, random noises) that will jolt you in between long stretches of boredom. Good news for PA1 fans – this follow-up does a neat job at tying together both plots while adding new elements that are sure to be echoed in parts three-through-incalculable. While the film’s main draw is experiencing it in a dark, crowded theatre with likeminded horror plebs, this BD/DVD/digital copy offers a slightly extended cut and a few extra minutes of “found footage” as its sole extra.

The award for ickiest double bill of the week (scratch that, all time) goes to I Spit on Your Grave (Anchor Bay) and its recent rehash. In both versions, the rape-and-revenge formula remains, but the remake’s recycled shocks and Saw-influenced kills make for even less tolerable torture. For seasoned ‘sploitation buffs, Meir Zarchi’s 1978 original is worth a gander… if you can stomach its nauseating centrepiece. Extras: plenty of goodies for the remake, while the original’s Blu-ray upgrade sports a fresh interview with Zarchi that addresses the film’s rocky production, distribution and cultural impact.