Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Cheap-Arse DEBUT Review - "WE'VE GOT THE TOASTER"









Believe it or not, it was spotting this film on the DVD racks at Poundland that inspired me to do this. It's not so much that it looked better than the films around it, it just looked a bit... different. When you're surrounded by movies with titles like "Screw Killer," "Cheerleader Murder Squad" and "Death Camp" (more on that later...), just having a title like "We've Got The Toaster" was enough to make me look twice. The cover art, of a seemingly terrified young man in a Zippy T-Shirt set to a red background, also caught my eye. It just looked like something I would have been interested in if I hadn't seen it in Poundland. And that made me think that maybe I was being a bit sniffy. And so, here we are. Thank you, "We've Got The Toaster."

I suppose I should detail the plot, but I really don't think I need to bother, because it's so identa-kit to most other movies of it's type that you could probably do it yourself after reading about five
words. But nevertheless, I shall be a professional- Lance (Jamie Mander) is a nice, not particularly popular 16-year-old, who conspires with his porn-obsessed friend Henry (Rob Smith) to throw a party when his parents go away, mostly in order for him to impress Steph (Emma Blake), a girl we start the movie seeing him pretty much stalking. The party of course gets out of hand when more people show up then expected, the police end up being called, seemingly everyone gets laid except poor Lance... you get the idea. It's every teen comedy ever made since "Animal House." There are however two things that set it apart from most of those other movies and make it a little bit more original- 1) almost the entire cast actually is made up of teenagers playing their actual ages, as oppsed to men and women in the twenties trying to remember what it felt like, and 2) instead of being set in some pretty, leafy American suburb, the action here takes place in Royal Tumbridge Wells, and looks like it could be happening down the road from you.

There are some problems with this movie, I'm not going to pretend there's not, the biggest problem of all being the overall production value. Basically, there is none. Now, I can't stress enough how little a budget this movie seems to have been working with. I mean, the back
of the box even says it was at least partially funded by The National Lottery UK Film Council, so in a way pointing out that it looks cheap is a bit like laughing at the drummer of Def Leppard for only having one arm- it's not his fault, and he's still doing a damn sight better job than you could in his position. But even with that said, I've seen movies made on aggressively tight budgets that look and sound better than this one does. It looks, no lie, like a student film, like somebody just asked nicely if they could borrow their mate's Dad's camcorder and shot it in their spare time. Which is what I originally thought it more-or-less was, and I was willing to be a bit more forgiving about it. Of course it looks like a film made by children, it is a film made by children! Imagine my surprise when I found out the entire thing was written, directed and shot by adults, chief amongst them writer/director Mike Laloe, who admits my theory pretty much within the first thirty seconds of the "Production Notes" documentary on the disc when he says that his expectations of the project were, "zero," that, "we didn't know what we were doing," and his idea was, "let's just get a camcorder, get a bunch of kids and make a film," which is just a Gary Glitter joke waiting to be made. The camera work is pretty shocking, quite often shaky to the point that it's distracting. That's not the biggest problem, though. That accolade belongs to the sound. Now, I used to be one of those people who had a bit of a chuckle whenever the Oscar for "Best Sound Editing" was announced. I know I wasn't alone in doing that. But after watching this movie, I get it. It's easy to laugh at the thought of somebody winning an award for sound editing, because when it's good, you don't notice it. Here, it's bad, and dear God, do you notice it. It's very obvious that they they went through almost the entire movie working with sound recorded live, and there are points where this made certain scenes almost unwatchable. There were two scenes in particular, one with a bunch of girls walking town a school corridor, one with the two male leads talking and smoking near a road, where I could barely make out a line of dialogue, because of the echo and the sound of cars roaring past respectively. I had to turn the sound right up and sit really close to my TV to have any idea what was going on. Again, I'm aware they weren't working with alot of money, and these problems couldn't have been easily fixed, but at some point it's not unthinkable that somebody could have said, "Y'know what, these locations aren't working, let's move the scene somewhere else, somewhere a little more practical." There are always ways around these things.

Which is not to say this movie is a disaster, because it isn't. The writing was occasionally a little bit uneven and sounded too much like an adult trying to remember what kids used to talk like, the most obvious example of that being Lance describing Steph as "the
fittest thing since sliced fit," at the beginning of the film, a line they for some reason liked enough to have on the back of the box. But for the most part, it's a perfectly decent screenplay, with some good lines ("That wasn't a party, it was half the year ten football team playing Soggy Biscuit"), and characters that, if not quite three dimensional, are at least distinguishable from each other. And when the party abruptly comes to an end and the four remaining characters find themselves trapped in the house with each other, it actually turns into something a little bit unexpected and special, as they discuss their lives and their dreams (literally).

Most of the acting is fairly rough and unpolished, to be kind, with the two bullies and two indie kids at the party moaning about the the music and uttering lines like, "it's like Kurt Cobain died for nothing," giving the worst of the bunch. The three leads however give a good showing for themselves, even though Emma Blake doesn't have much to do most of the time except be chased after. The two
best performances here, though, go to two minor players, that being the duo of Will Bayley and James Green as Ralph and Ian. During the course of the film, they get thrown in a bin, decide to gate-crash the party, steal some non-alcoholic beer, drink mouthwash, show up at the party after it's finshed, and decide to end the night by hyperventilating, which they do until one of them passes out. They're obviously the clowns of the piece, but they're having so much fun, and seem to be enjoying working with each other so much, that you just go with it. Bayley also gives the film it's funniest image, as we see his chubby little face adorned with a drawn on Hitler mustache looking directly into camera as he tries to convince an off licence clerk he's old enough to buy beer. I don't care that he's not the main character, that should have been the picture on the front of the box. I probably would have bought it sooner if it had.

So what we have here is a film that is, from a technical standpoint, utterly flawed. However, if you can get past the awful camera work, the shitty sound, some bad performances and a couple of lines of dialogue that make you groan, you'll find a movie that's just
totally likeable. It's like a puppy that's missing an eye and a leg- it's got things wrong with it, but you love it in spite of that, or maybe even a little bit because of that. And so, with that admittedly slightly disturbing image in mind...



Like Laloe himself says in the "Production Notes..." doc on this disc (which, it's also worth pointing out, has a surprising amount of extras on it, that being two documentaries and some outtakes), "what this movie lacks in production value, it makes up for in heart." I could agree with you more, sir. You movie has earned the right to lean against Marv.

And so, we're off to a good start. Maybe this was a good idea after all. Anyway, until next time, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Reviewer, and greed is good.

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