Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Keep the Bugs Off Your Glass and the Trouble Off Your Ass

The end-of-year slowdown is in full effect as we prepare to cruise gently into the New Decade in a postprandial tryptophan-induced haze.

I was going to write a Year or Decade In Review. I kicked it around for a couple of days, but I just couldn't get excited about it. "Best Of" lists are clogging up the Internet like a virulent outbreak of pixelated weeds and I've grown bored of reading them, so I sure ain't gonna waste my time adding another one to the pile.

I'll give you this much - Battle Royale remains my undisputed favourite movie of the decade, and if you have a burning desire to discover my thoughts on that, I've already written 4,000 words about it here (in addition to another chapter on Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill). It'll make for a fine last-minute Christmas gift for the blood-thirsty cineaste in your family. And that's the shameless plugging for the decade over as well.

There is one more Favourite Movie of the Decade I wanted to write about in detail, but I'll save that for a dedicated post next year, in which I'll pledge the band...of Mr.Schneebly. But I've already said too much...

Every year at this time, I always say to myself that I want to achieve more in the following year. And I do. Every year the output increases in both quality and quantity. But I'm still never satisfied. My reach continues to exceed my grasp, and that's no bad thing. I look forward to further grasping in the coming decade.

OK. That's enough aimless prattle on the blog for 2009. I'll continue to spit out 140-character pellets of bullshit on Twitter over the festive period. I have movies to watch, comics to read, friends and family to catch up with and bourbon to imbibe. I'll probably be climbing the walls by Boxing Day.

All that's left for me to say to you all, my dear friends out there in Interwebland, is Merry Christmas and I hope that 2010 brings you closer to whatever it is that you want out of life. Onwards!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Click! Slingers Is Coming

I've been following Mike and Toby's adventures with the gestation of Slingers on Twitter for a long time with growing interest. And then yesterday, Warren Ellis blogged the Slingers sizzle reel and all of a sudden Shit Just Got Real. I absolutely love it when One of Us does good, and it's easier to throw unreserved support behind something when that something is genuinely really, really bloody excellent.

If you like heist movies; if you read 2000AD growing up; if you have a functioning brain, a neglected adrenal gland and a hunger for damn good television, then this is for you - The Slingers sizzle reel. And make sure that you head on over to Mike's blog and tell him how much you love it:

SLINGERS from Mike Sizemore on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Living In A Box - Paul King's Bunny & The Bull

Let's get one thing out of the way before I get stuck into this: I have no intention of making endless references to The Mighty Boosh when discussing Bunny & The Bull. Back in 2004, reviews that constantly compared Shaun of the Dead to Spaced were tedious and unfair. Movies have to succeed or fail on their own merits. This isn't a spin-off from a TV show. So all I want to say about The Mighty Boosh in relation to Bunny & The Bull is, yes, Paul King directed most of the episodes of that show and, yes, both Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt appear in extended cameos. OK? OK. Let's do Bunny & The Bull the favour of treating it as a free-standing entity. Moving on...

It's difficult to discuss exactly what Bunny & The Bull is, or even what it is about, without diminishing it somewhat. I'm not worried about straying into spoiler territory, it's just that I expect that Bunny & The Bull is likely to be different things to different people. Whilst King's movie is undoubtedly very, very funny in parts, I think it would be a stretch to call it a comedy. It's a buddy road movie where two friends travel across Europe in search of romance and adventure. Or maybe they never leave the confines of a cramped London flat. Or perhaps they never get any further than moving around the wounded psyche of repressed naif Stephen Turnbull, played by Edward Hogg.

And therein lies the true strength of Paul King's movie. Bunny & The Bull is a slippery film to nail down, which makes it far more interesting to me. No matter how much the film seems to be about friendship and love, there's a thinner, darker skein woven around it all weighted with loss and tragedy. It's fun and enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny in places, but you can never quite escape the slightly disturbing, unsettling fug that hangs in front of it all like dirty net curtains. Having two apparently contradictory tones at play is a difficult trick to pull off, but King just about manages it.

Edward Hogg's wired, twitchy performance in the astonishing White Lightnin', which helped that little-seen gem snag Le Hitchcock d'Or Prix du Jury at this year's Dinard Festival of British Cinema, showed what a mesmerising screen presence he can be. In Bunny & The Bull, Hogg has to do most of the heavy lifting as the straight man to Simon Farnaby's reckless, lovable oaf Bunny, without the fall-back of intermittent goggle-eyed one-liners.

Stephen's memories take place in a beautifully-constructed environment of carefully-lit backdrops, miniature models and calculatedly ramshackle, dreamy sets. Once you get past the sheen of artifice and the gags and the distracting cameo appearances, there's a genuinely affecting movie tinged with hope hiding just beneath the surface.

Bunny & The Bull is released in the UK on Friday 27 November. I wish that cinemas still showed a cartoon before every movie, because showing the original Bunny and Bull in the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes short Bully for Bugs first would make for a damn fine double-bill.

Friday, November 06, 2009

40 Reasons why I love Sesame Street

1. Can you tell me how to get...?

2. Super Grover!

3. Sesame Street does Mad Men

4. Cookie Monster eats the World Trade towers in 1976 (via Boing Boing)

5. The Pointer Sisters and the Pinball Number Count

6. How to make your own DIY Pointer Sisters Pinball Clock

7. Bert and Ernie

8. Miami Mice

9. The Amazing Mumford

10. One of these things is not like the other things

11. Bob

12. Hooper's Store

13. Heeere's Cookie Monster! (via Popped Culture)

14. Count von Count

C is for Cookie

16. Slimey the Worm

17. Sesame Street Fever

18. Gordon

19. Follow That Bird

Oscar the Grouch

21. Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood?

22. Stevie Wonder performs Superstition

James Earl Jones counts to ten

24. Kermit the Frog's News Flash

25. Johnny Cash sings Nasty Dan to Oscar the Grouch

26. Big Bird in China (via Kung Fu Fridays)

27. Mr. Snuffleupagus

R2D2 and C3P0 visit Sesame Street

29. The Typewriter Guy

30. Gladys Knight & The Pips tell you how to get to Sesame Street

31. The cast of Bonanza count to 20

32. Guy Smiley

33. Grover the Waiter

34. Lena Horne sings the alphabet

35. The Bill Cosby alphabet

36. The Mad Painter

37. Richard Pryor demonstrates emotions

38. Cookiegate

39. Big Bird sings It's Not Easy Being Green at Jim Henson's Memorial

40. This blog post was brought to you by the letters H and B, and the number 40. This has been a production of the ...

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

Just found an extra clip and it was far too good to exclude. So here's my 41st Reason why I love Sesame Street. Jesse Jackson and I Am Somebody:

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Quick and The Dead - Revisiting 28 Weeks Later

Over the weekend, I watched Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later again for the first time since its original theatrical release. With a couple of years perspective, I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around.

Which isn't to say that I didn't like it back in 2007. I did - a lot. But this time, I could watch it without endlessly comparing it to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Back then, I penalised Fresnadillo's movie for not being sufficiently scary, and for amping up the action and big-scale splatter. But that's just not fair. 28 Weeks Later has plenty of good scares, from the superb pre-title sequence showing a small group of survivors in a remote boarded-up house suddenly overwhelmed by the infected, to the moment when the inevitable cycle of infection ramps up all over again with one fateful kiss, to a treacherous walk down a stalled escalator in a pitch-black tube station, decomposing corpses slick and crunchy underfoot.

There are definite parallels here between the claustrophobic simplicity of 28 Days Later (and Ridley Scott's Alien) and the tooled-up militarism and firepower of 28 Weeks Later (and James Cameron's Aliens). The same song played with different instruments, and there's nothing wrong with that, because it's all about the execution. Whilst the first chapter in both series focus more on anticipation and tension, guile and smarts and hiding in the shadows, the second installments shift approach slightly to things that explode or ignite or crash and go "Boom". Interestingly, though, for all the mounting shell-casings and rising pyres of flame in 28 Weeks Later, the element that makes it all work is the family that finds itself torn apart, put back together and then rent asunder all over again over the course of the movie. Without that, it would just be another Living versus Dead knock-down drag-out (albeit one done with a lot of style and well-judged gore).

The true horror of 28 Weeks Later isn't the rampaging infected let loose on London once again. It's the tragic inevitability of the moment when the American military realises that everyone has to die in an attempt to contain the outbreak - infected and living alike. A decision which is even more devastating once it fails.

The aerial shots of an abandoned London are just as starkly beautiful as they are in Boyle's movie. No clusters of pigeons in the sky. No swirls of smoke from the buildings. No streams of traffic crossing the capital. And no people. Yes, I know that someone in an effects house probably spent hours digitally removing all signs of life from aerial footage, but that doesn't make it any less striking.

And the street level shots of London are equally gorgeous, with every street corner marked not only with overturned cars and dark stains, but towering mounds of bright yellow refuse sacks full of diseased body parts awaiting disposal and incineration. (Yes, I am aware that I just described piles of corpses as "gorgeous"...)

Cillian Murphy spent the first half hour of 28 Days Later making a mental adjustment adapting to the post-apocalyptic world that disintegrated whilst he was comatose in a central London hospital, and the rest of the film redefining himself in order to survive in a new world. Here, the destructive guilt Robert Carlyle has been carrying for 28 weeks is the catalyst that starts the cycle of arterial blood spurts and mouthfuls of torn flesh all over again. Both actors display a different flavour of muted numb acceptance, and Carlyle is astonishingly good. No amount of cold clinical military logic can compete with the gnawing emotions of a shattered man.

Back in 2007, I hadn't seen The Wire yet, and The Hurt Locker didn't exist, so this time I was looking at Idris Elba and Jeremy Renner with different eyes. Disappointingly, the role of a stiff unyielding commanding officer isn't much of a stretch for the man who essayed the complex and ambitious Stringer Bell. But I couldn't help looking at Renner's character and imagining him as Kathryn Bigelow's daredevil Sergeant James and thinking that, after coping bravely and recklessly with all those unexploded IEDs in Iraq, he's still unprepared for the chaos of London's blood-vomiting infected.

iMDB teases that the long-rumoured 28 Months Later may finally become a reality. If it does eventually run bleeding and screeching to the big screen, it's got a lot to live up to. Here's hoping it's no Alien³.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moving Pictures

Yes. I know. This blog has gone quiet again. It'll sputter back into action again soon, I'm sure.

Until then, a thought. The last couple of months have convinced me that 2009 is shaping up to be one of the finest years in cinema we've had for a long, long time. And here's my evidence - just a few of the beautiful, indelible images that I've been carrying around in my head, and the reason why I still take myself into dark rooms with a wall of flickering light in front of me, waiting and hoping to be showered with moments like these:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is not a love story - (500) Days of Summer

Before I begin, a disclaimer. Generally, I really don't like what passes for romantic comedy these days. I'll make an exception to this rule if a movie includes Simon Pegg and a blood-stained cricket bat. If there's a chance that Hugh Grant might bumble onto the screen, you'd have to bludgeon me with a blood-stained cricket bat to keep me in my seat.

You see, the overwhelming majority of romantic comedies are neither romantic nor comedic. On the whole, they're lazy by-the-numbers retreads of things you've seen done many times before, and better. They seem to exist solely to give Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson some semblance of a career. The startling lack of imagination in this virulent, mulitplex-infecting genre even extends to the advertising campaigns. The posters go a little something like this: The two leads against a white background. Leaning against something invisible. Smirking. Faces you want to punch repeatedly.

All of which is just a preamble to say that (500) Days of Summer is genuinely both funny and romantic. And, refreshingly, it dispenses with the depressing inevitably of a "they lived happily ever after" ending by setting you straight up front. A voiceover tells you what to expect - "This is not a love story" - and one of the first things we see is the aftermath of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel's failed relationship at the straggling end point of their 500 days together. The film then scrolls backwards and forwards along the timeline, using numbered title-cards denoting which day of the relationship we are at, shuffling and juggling them so that the good days are juxtaposed with the bad, nascent passion rapidly mutating into devastating heartbreak and back again.

"A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order." Jean-Luc Godard

What else has (500) Days of Summer got?

It's got two exceptional central performances from a pair that haven't appeared on screen together since Jordan Melamed's criminally under-seen Manic. (Levitt really does look more and more like Heath Ledger with every passing year. Someone should tell Christopher Nolan that we've found his next Joker.*) As much as Levitt brings a spot-on lightness of touch to his role, Deschanel is the one with the tougher act to pull off. She has to be convincingly and simultaneously plausible as both the ideal dream woman and as an icily-detached and insensitive bitch, without once ever sliding into a hackneyed stereotype of the Kooky Chick. The truth, of course, is something more complex and believable than either extreme, as the film's accretion of details reveals as it progresses.

It's got a full-blown song-and-dance number to the Hall & Oates tune You Make My Dreams.

It's got a lovely spot of flirtation centred around the theme tune from Knight Rider.

It's got wit, charm and inventiveness. It's got to be worth 95 minutes of your time.

The only thing (500) Days of Summer needs now is an audience. Make sure that it has one.

(500) Days of Summer is released in the UK on 2nd September. Thanks to the gang at Jam for the screening. And whilst you're waiting for the movie to rock up at your local popcorn palace, have a play making yourself a virtual C90 at the nifty (500) Days of Summer Mixtape site.

*I totally stole this observation from @ControlB. Sorry, Brett

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Million Giraffes (and one Clay Shirky)

There are a lot of things that the internet does really well. It does meaningless well. And crowdsourcing. It does magnificent towering monuments to imaginative folly, and creativity, and creating a community out of every single person online.

At the moment, my imagination has been captured by a web project that encapsulates all of these things and is beautiful in its simplicity. In Stavanger, Norway, there’s a man called Ola Helland. He made a bet that he could collect 1 million giraffes by the end of 2011, by leveraging the power and goodwill of the People of Planet Internet. And from that bet was born One Million Giraffes.

The only rule
is (in Ola’s words): “Your giraffe(s) can be created in any way and form, but not on a computer”. The barrier to entry is negligible. You don’t have to create a masterpiece. You can dash off a crappy giraffe in mere minutes if you wish. After all, a crappy giraffe is still a giraffe.

But I’ve been endlessly delighted by the breadth of inventiveness on display from the thousands submitting their giraffes. People could do it the easy way (and some, of course, do), but where’s the fun in that? If you’re going to do something for no reason whatsoever, do it with gusto!

Clay Shirky explains all this stuff much better than me in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising Without Organisations. (I’m sure Shirky would prefer it if I spelt that title with some “z”’s where I’ve placed “s”’s, but I write the Queen’s English on this side of the Atlantic. The internet also does “divisive” and "nit-picking" very well, too…)

As Shirky states in the book: “You can think of group undertaking as a kind of ladder of activities, activities that are enabled or improved by social tools. The rungs on the ladder, in order of difficulty, are sharing, cooperation, and collective action.”

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about giraffes when he wrote that sentence.

At the time of writing, Ola has 22,121 giraffes, so he needs 977,879 more. Go and make a giraffe and send it to him. It’ll make him happy.

And if you’re wondering, here’s a picture of my contribution. It's one in a million:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Metal Fatigue

(Or "Why I won't be subjecting myself to Transformers 2")

It would not be strictly true to say that I have a blanket disdain for the oeuvre of Michael Bay. The Island didn't totally suck and, like Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, I too have an unhealthy affection for Bad Boys II. Anything that extreme and that offensive - that pushes the buddy-cop movie so far past the breaking point until all that remains is a clotted mess of spent shell-casings, twisted metal and bleeding eardrums - deserves some kind of warped recognition.

But I remember my experience of being battered by Bay's first Transformers movie. And it's not something I'd willingly put myself through a second time.

A couple of years ago, I had a blistering job interview that left me reeling. It was more like a sustained attack on every single element of my professional and personal life to date. My interviewer made Sir Alan Sugar look like a pussy. It was interminable and painful, like a trip to the gym after decades sitting slumped on a couch, and the interviewer's opening gambit was "I don't believe half of the shit that you've written on your CV, but we'll come back to that later."

Two and a half hours later, I staggered back out into the murky, welcoming air of London, loosened my tie and tried to remember how to walk again. I was completely and utterly spent. I hopped on the Tube and headed towards Leicester Square, figuring that I deserved to treat myself to a movie. Something big and dumb that I wouldn't have to think about. Something that would just wash over me. I chose Transformers.

At that point, it would have behooved me to remember that Michael Bay calls his style of filmmaking "fucking the frame". In Transformers, the frame should have brought Michael Bay up on charges for sexual assault.

I'm just old enough not to have any kind of nostalgic affection for the robots in disguise, so I wasn't concerned that an icon of my childhood was going to be defiled by a movie. That was one thing working in my favour. Turns out that was the only thing working in my favour.

Not only was my choice of movie a boneheaded move, but I thought I'd catch it on the largest screen of the Empire Leicester Square, where everything is bigger and louder. It's easy to describe the Transformers movies as "robots hitting each other". It felt more like "robots punch me in the head over and over and over again for two and a half hours."

And another thing. I really don't comprehend the enduring appeal of Shia LeBeouf. He's a perfectly adequate performer, but he's not leading man material. But then, he is playing second fiddle to clanking metal.

And I sat there thinking "You know, big robots are inherently cool. Big robots changing and unfolding should be visually interesting. But when the director keeps cut-cut-cutting and the soundtrack keeps clang-clang-clanging, what is the point of all these horrendously expensive visual effects when I can't keep track of whatever it is I'm supposed to be looking at?"

I also thought: "This is giving me a fucking headache."

For the second time that day, I weaved outside dazed from a not-particularly-pleasant sensory onslaught. And that's why I won't be pissing any of my money up the wall to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

(Postscript: It was worth subjecting myself to the interview, though. I got the job. I've still got the job to this day. My interviewer likes someone who can hold their own against a verbal reaming. So the day wasn't a total bust.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Unhappy Campers - Kirkman, Moore & Adlard's The Walking Dead

Zombies. I love 'em. Can't get enough of them.

The birth of the current strain of post-apocalyptic zombie story can be traced back to George A. Romero's landmark 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead and the moment when a doofus in specs (looking not unlike one of the Proclaimers) lurched around a graveyard saying "I'm coming to get you, Barbara!" The joke was on him. Within minutes, he was zombie food.

If Night of the Living Dead was the first born child of the zombie apocalypse, then travel that line a little bit further back and you hit that child's bloodthirsty progenitor - Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend. Whilst the relentless creatures at the dark heart of Matheson's novel are vampires rather than zombies, all of the major tropes of zombie fiction are already here: rapid societal collapse; a devastating and largely unavoidable pandemic; survival; and the concept of the enemy as something that used to be us (and, equally terrifying, something that we can still become).

(I won't veer off into a reflection on the subsequent movie adaptations of Matheson's novel - The Omega Man or the recent Will Smith version - because that would be one digression too many for this little ol' blog post).

Since Romero's original Dead film, the zombie movie has thrived and proliferated, currently enjoying a particularly fertile period with variable results. But they all fit to the same basic templates, largely due to the time constraints of a feature-length movie. You've got about 90 minutes to get in, unleash the flesh-hungry critters on your rag-tag band of random survivors, throw some gore at the screen, and get out again. And there's your movie. There are a lot of different ways to play that particular tune, but the skeleton of the story is essentially the same.

But what if you could dispense with that limitation? What if you could stretch that time frame to do more than just set-up your scenario as an excuse for bursts of gut-munching and decapitations? And that's when you start looking at other mediums better suited to the slow-burn.

Which leads me to Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's monthly comics series from Image Comics - The Walking Dead. (Tony Moore was there for the initial six-issue arc, with Adlard taking over from there). I enjoyed the first two volumes of the book, but there was a slight feeling of been-there, done-that even though there was a great deal to enjoy and the execution of the story was exemplary, because the first two books are familiar exercises in world-building in the early days of a Grave New World. But I wasn't completely and utterly hooked until Volume 3 - Safety Behind Bars got its rotting teeth into me, because that was the point where I really started to see the bigger picture.

Unlike the majority of zombie movies, where the living are almost as disposable and loosely sketched as the shambling undead, The Walking Dead is all about the long game. Kirkman follows the lives of an ever-changing group of survivors from the moment that the zombie apocalypse begins and continues forward over a growing period of time. There is no end point. We can follow the characters as they fight and change, adapt and survive, live and die - month after month, year after year. The stories work better when the zombies are the set-dressing and the living are foregrounded.

And that's what makes The Walking Dead such an outstanding piece of work. The real enemy isn't the unending supply of gnashing corpses. The enemy is the living. We see survivors under stress and the terrible and wonderful things that people can do to and for each other in order to survive. And because we have the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them, every casualty is more keenly felt. It's not just an expendable cast member for a cool sight gag involving unravelling entrails.

Don't get me wrong - Kirkman and Adlard leave plenty of space for horror and excitement and fun and surprises. But they still get to grips with the practical minutiae of living in a world where civilisation as we know it has ceased to exist and they make it compelling. And the best thing about comics? Unlimited budget means unlimited imagination. A shot of two talking heads costs the same to create as a rampaging horde of zombies replete with dripping jaws and flying extremities.

Kirkman plays by Romero Rules - the dead are slow and mindless; you can "turn" without a bite (natural death will still provide the same end result); and Romero's Cardinal Rule - Never, ever explain how it happened. Zombie stories that try to provide some sort of rational or scientific explanation for the apocalypse always somehow diminishes the story. I can't overstate the allure of the Unknown. If you subtract the "Why?", everything else is so much more unnerving.

I'm a late-comer to The Walking Dead, and I burned my way through the first nine volumes of Kirkman's ongoing epic in the space of a week. Can't wait for the next one.

The Walking Dead is available in monthly installments from all good comic shops, or in a variety of collected editions from fine purveyors of printed matter.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Beginning of the Ends

It's been quiet around here, hasn't it? Let's see if I can do something about that.

There are a few reasons for the dearth of new blog posts. I've been writing almost exclusively offline recently and, on top of that, I keep sliding into phases where my Output slows down to a pitiful trickle and so I ramp up the Input, squeezing stuff into my head to see what sparks off all the gunk slooshing around in my brainpan.

Partly by design, but largely by coincidence, a disproportionate amount of the entertainment I've been consuming lately has been post-apocalyptic or survivalist fiction. The "design" bit of the equation falls under that multi-purpose word "research". For quite a while, I've been working on a script which is only tangentially post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction, so I've been eating up stuff safe in the knowledge that I'm not plagiarising anything or anyone. The "coincidence" bit is just grabbing books, comics, movies, etc. that pique my interest and discovering that, yet again, there's an End of the World scenario at play.

But here's the thing that's really interesting to me. Post-apocalyptic stories all start from a similar starting point - "Something Bad Happens and Everything Changes" - but I've been endlessly delighted at the breadth and range of stories you can get to by spinning off from such a flexible and versatile beginning.

The enduring appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction is obvious and understandable. All day everyday, newspapers and rolling 24-hour news channels scream in our faces about Y2K bugs, avian flu, SARS, swine flu, the collapse of banking institutions, terrorist attacks, ecological disasters and on and on and on. Great horror stories get under your skin because they tap into your existing fears and make them easier to process by clothing them as zombies or vampires or killer cyborgs from the future.

So consider this an introductory blurb because, for the foreseeable future, this blog is going to carry my impressions of a significant pile of the aforementioned post-apocalyptic fiction. Some of it might come off as notemaking in public and thinking out loud. But I'm interested in looking at both the similarities and differences in this substantial and growing sub-genre and not just purely in terms of storytelling. I hope that I'm not the only one to get something out of it.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's an underground bunker that I need to finish building.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Invisible People - Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy

Traditionally (and unimaginatively), the vast majority of film reviews lead with a brief synopsis of some kind, but to take that approach with Wendy and Lucy would do the film a massive disservice. I'll prove it to you:

Wendy is driving to Alaska with her dog Lucy in their ailing automobile, with the aim of finding some kind of work in the fishing industry. En route, somewhere in Oregon, all it takes is one bad decision and a couple of strokes of terrible luck to throw her plans and her precarious existence into potentially devastating disarray.

But that slender, ephemeral story-engine tells you nothing of real value about Wendy and Lucy, because it is so much more than that. In a less ambitious movie, the events of Kelly Reichardt's film would merit little more than a wordless five-minute montage sequence wedged in between chunks of wordy plot and action. By choosing to slow things down, Reichardt magnifies the details, and by closing in on them and holding them up to the light, shows us something we might otherwise choose to ignore.

Ignoring, neglecting or otherwise missing things cuts to the core of Wendy and Lucy, because in many ways this is a movie about marginal lives and invisible people - lives that can be crushed by one bad day, one unplanned expense or the thoughtless, officious cruelty of those whose throwaway decisions carry hefty consequences.

But Reichardt's intimate camera and lovingly-framed close-ups never flinch in showing us these invisible people, and by refusing to cut away or to hurry things along, she succeeds in making the invisible visible. By zeroing in on the smallest moments, we feel the consequences of everything more keenly. We feel the intense disastrous repercussions when Wendy's car won't start one morning, and again when Wendy discovers the likely cost of repairs. We hold our breath when a stranger suddenly appears whilst Wendy sleeps in the woods. After having seen Wendy meticulously account for her expenditure in a notebook, measuring out her life one dollar at a time, we feel the crushing weight of every unexpected financial setback.

The spare style of Recichardt's film is ably supported by understated performances by the small cast. The career of Michelle Williams has been unfairly overshadowed by distracting labels like "The one off Dawson's Creek that isn't Katie Holmes" or some designation that ties her to the ghost of Heath Ledger. But she's always given great performances in films both underrated and largely forgotten (Me Without You) or overrated for all the wrong reasons (Brokeback Mountain), and her role in Wendy and Lucy may be the best one of all.

It's always good to see Will Patton (an actor I've enjoyed and admired ever since he blew his brains out in front of Kevin Costner in No Way Out), even if his appearances here as the mechanic are all too brief. And Wally Dalton has a gentle aura of comfort and power as the nameless security guard, on his feet in a perpetually empty store parking lot, squinting in the sun, patiently waiting for nothing much at all to happen. As the closest thing the film has to a Voice of Reason, he articulates the Catch-22 that the film hinges on: "You can't get an address without an address. You can't get a job without a job. It's all fixed."

If I make it all sound like doom and gloom, it's not. The film is studded with random acts of kindness and unexpected beauty, like the scenes of Wendy and Lucy taking a break from the demands of perpetual motion on the open road, as the sun shines through the trees and Wendy throws sticks to her companion as they are returned in a breathless slobber.

Through it all, even when things appear to be at their most bleak, with a perfectly-judged use of sound design, we hear Wendy's gentle, melodic humming. And when we hear that, it gives us hope that, no matter what happens, Wendy will make it through it and endure, even though there's not a shred of evidence to suggest that that might be the case. Somehow, though, that uplifting, reassuring hum let's us know that everything is going to be all right.

Wendy and Lucy is released by Soda Pictures on 6 March.