Choke (UK - DVD R2)
Our Marcus manages to digest this new Sam Rockwell movie with ease...
Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict, whose life never quite got off the ground due to his mother's (Anjelica Huston) overbearing character. He works as a historical re-enactor of American colonial life by day and visits his mother in her care home—despite the fact she never recognizes him—by night. He also uses his discovered skill/scam of choking on food in restaurants to get that small moment of embrace from a stranger and provide them with a brief moment of feeling like a hero—followed by them feeling responsible for his life and sending him money when he sends them updates on his life. Basically he’s pretty messed up.
Then Victor meets Dr Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), who offers him the chance to try an experimental stem cell technique that might help his mother’s condition. For Victor, this only involves him having sex with Dr Marshall, which up until now is what Victor does best, but something’s different. Now Victor might actually like someone he’s having sex with and his cynical world view is about to change—‘I’m trying to fuck you in a church to save my Mum’s brain.’
I’ve never read the original novel by Chuck Palahniuk (also the writer of the much loved Fight Club), but I’d only ever heard good things about its content. I had no idea what the story was about—at least not the depths of the human condition it burrows to—but when I found out it was Sam Rockwell’s next project, I was on board. In fact outside of the obvious movies of 2008, this was probably the one I was most looking forward to seeing. Y’see, I’m a huge Rockwell fan and I have been since the great Welcome to Collinwood. The guy just seems to be able to turn his hand to anything. From the heavy dramatic roles in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Snow Angels, to the more goofy turns in Galaxy Quest and Charlie's Angels, he just seems to shine in whatever he chooses to do. So take Sam, add a plot about a sex addict written by Chuck Palahniuk, then tell me it's a dark comedy and there you have a must-see movie.
I’ll admit that the first viewing left me a little underwhelmed. It had spikes of greatness and a story that you can honestly say is unlike anything in the current climate, but for me it just didn’t feel as sharp as I hoped it would be. However, that was the first viewing. On this second viewing, I got it and I got it in a big bad way. For starters the story really is great. The twists and turns it takes are handled with care by director Clark Gregg. He never forces Victor's issues down your throat (no pun intended). Each step Victor takes towards being a better person never feels like it’s a 'movie event' and Gregg really manages to keep the story, which really does travel down some bizarre paths, as realistic as possible and I found the pay off really rewarding on this second viewing.
There are also some touching performances in here as well. Anjelica Huston really shines in both elements of her character. The anarchic mother of Victor’s youth is as engrossing and enjoyable as her older version, frail and forgetful in the home. She really owns the kooky mother role of late. Kelly Macdonald is also playing a beautifully understated performance, which worked much better the second time (won’t mention why—spoilery). Victor’s best friend Denny (Brad William Henke) is everything you’d want from a buddy (bar the constant jerking off) and of course Sam Rockwell does what he does and makes it look effortless.
Seriously, how Rockwell makes all of the many ‘out there’ elements of this story work so well deserves a special mention. Nothing about his character's world is normal. Not his job, not his addiction, not his attitude, not his life. Everything is under the microscope for the sake of movie storytelling, but Rockwell pins us to this reality in a way that only the best actors can do. He should be unlikeable to be around, he should be vile, but he’s not. You warm to him immediately, you see the good in him and you’re with him on this next step forward. Not once does it feel performed or practiced; everything feels like it’s happening to Victor in that moment and it’s great. It helps that the character is so well set up, really letting us into why he is how he is, which is as much down to Clark Gregg as it is to Rockwell, but this is still a performance that walks the line between honest to God drama and full on comedy without it ever falling into the wrong mood.
I love it when a movie just gets better on repeat viewings—especially when the first wasn’t the event you wanted it to be—and Choke seems to be going that way. There’s enough in here that I could sit right down and watch it again right now with ease and for me Choke is one of those movies I think I’ll be fancying a re-watch of for a good long while.
There’s nothing to get excited about here at all. The picture is full of grain and noise, colours are dull and lifeless (well except the red bow in Rockwell’s hair) and all in all nothing really popped.
That said, maybe that all aids the mood and style of the movie; maybe it’s a movie that didn’t demand anything more. Not everything needs to look stunning, does it? It’s going to come down to personal preference and while it’s grubby, it’s never terrible and at the end of the day this is small movie doing its best to find an audience in the crowd and the quality is in the story telling.
Once again, all very basic. Mostly everything is in the front speakers with the voice-over sitting strongly in the centre. The surround get some work with a few pieces of score and songs, but it’s minimal. The mix fits the style well enough and Choke never feels held back because of it—so once again, this is probably all the movie called for.
The commentary with Gregg and Rockwell is a pleasant listen along with both imputing lots of stories and facts about the shoot and the story. It's quite laid back in places but still a lot of fun.
There’s a selection of five deleted scenes (11:058) with optional commentary by Rockwell and Gregg. Most of these are slight extensions to scenes we’ve already seen and there's also more of a focus on the stone house Denny was building.
More interestingly was 'A Conversation with Clark Gregg and Chuck Palahniuk' (10:34), which was a very good feature with the two discussing the difference between the book and the movie and Gregg’s angle toward making it. It was brief but great stuff. Also as an add-on to that, there’s ‘For Los Angeles Film Festival’ (03:51) which is a Q&A session.
The more fluffy EPK stuff involved includes ‘Hello My Name is Victor—I’m a Sex Addict’ (15:16), which a small making of, ‘A Mothers Love’ (05:37), which is more of the same, but a little more focused on Victor and his mother’s relationship and ‘Fox Channel Presents: Casting Session' (10:21), which was a lot better than the making of, involving the director and the producer running through how they got the film made. Again it was brief but well worth watching.
Finally, there's a 'Gag Reel' (01:44) and on start up, you get trailers for What Just Happened, Australia and Slumdog Millionaire.
Choke is smart, funny and has moments of sheer insanity (the pre-planned rape scene being one of them). It isn’t a perfect movie and not everyone is going to go along for its ride of sex addiction, Da Vinci code-esq lineage curve balls (seriously, it’s brilliant) and a very cynical character's attitude towards life, but this one deserves your time.
The DVD might not be up to much in the A/V department, but with a very limited cinematic run at the end of last year and with no Blu-ray release for this one (so far), the options for those who want to catch it sort of ends here.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 23rd March 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary with Clark Gregg and Sam Rockwell, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, A Conversation with Clark Gregg and Chuck Palahniuk, My Name is Victor and I’m a Sex Addict, A Mother's Love, From the Los Angeles Film Festival, Casting Session
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clark Gregg
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kelly Macdonald, Anjelica Huston, Brad William Henke
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 88 minutes
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