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Beautiful Creatures

17 Jul

beautiful creatures

 

 

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Writers: Richard LaGravenese (screenplay), Kami Garcia (based on the novel)

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Viola Davis

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 124 minutes

 

Plenty of vampires and werewolves have crowded cinemas and TV over the last few years so maybe it’s time for witches to get back involved. Actually they prefer the term ‘casters’ in this film of a popular piece of teen fiction (written by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl in 2009 as book one of a series called the Caster Chronicles). The books are described as a mix of Twilight and The Hunger Games, but although the three franchises might share a similar audience, the tones are different and only The Hunger Games really offers enough for adults.

As with so many gothic fantasy romances this story is set in the deep south of the US – this time in a South Carolina town called Gatlin. The lead is a frustrated and bored teenager called Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) with a deceased mother and a desperate desire to head out of town for college. At school he meets new girl Lena (Alice Englert) and is immediately bewitched. Regardless of her mysterious and possibly sinister background, Ethan follows her home and soon they are romantically involved in that Dawson’s Creek kind of way.

Lena reveals that she is a caster and that on her 16th birthday she will be claimed for either the light or dark side of magic. That gives the couple a few months to date like normal school kids whilst the forces of good and evil witchcraft are lining up behind Lena. On the good side is her uncle Macon (Oscar winner Jeremy Irons) and on the bad side is her estranged mother Sarafine (Oscar winner Emma Thompson). For advice Lena turns to local librarian Amma (Oscar nominated Viola Davis). It is a high class set of actors who surround Lena and Ethan and it is fun at times to see them work with this corny material. Irons and Davis do well enough, but Thompson suffers.

The climax ties together the clash of good and evil with Lena’s not so sweet sixteen and a local civil war re-enactment. Will Lena fall for the fakery of Thompson’s Sarafine or follow the decent approach of Irons’ Macon? Will the re-enactment of the Battle of Gatlin survive the impending thunderstorm? There are opportunities to ramp up the thrill level as Lena’s destiny is secured, but strangely the movie ends with a whimper and not a bang. That is symptomatic of some very ordinary direction by Richard LaGravenese – a good writer, but a poor director. The source material deserves better. Only an audience of 12 – 16 year old girls will sit through this with a smile.

Warm Bodies

9 Jun

warm bodies

 

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writers: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel)

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 98 minutes

 

 

This one feels like a first; a zombie rom-com (with the rather clever tagline ‘Boy meets, and doesn’t eat, the girl’). In a movie landscape blotted with zombie films, such as Zombieland, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, and the Resident Evil franchise, at least the film-makers on this one have tried to put some heart into the undead. It is a worthy effort and there is a fair amount of charm on display as well as some romance and a little comedy.

Nicholas Hoult plays an atypical zombie called R. He might be a part of the apocalyptic walking dead, but he retains a young man’s angst. His opening voiceover is funny and telling as he asks “What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture is terrible”. It is tongue in cheek stuff and rather refreshing. Hoult is actually a fairly charming zombie and it’s not long before he saves the life of and starts to fall for a beautiful young woman called Julie (played nicely by Teresa Palmer).

The thrust of Warm Bodies is that we all need to make a connection, however far off the tracks we might have veered. Zombie R makes his connection with Julie and thereafter starts to transform from shuffling flesh-eater to likeable young man. And his epiphany starts to affect the other zombies with whom he shares a derelict airport. The central romance acts as a type of cure for all, but the very far gone zombies called bonies due to their skeletal form.

The central premise here is good and the acting is fine. There is a good soundtrack too. Sadly there are not enough laughs so the ‘rom’ is much more effective than the ‘com’. It is cute and it has charm, but this is a small film and it does not do enough with the original idea. In hindsight this might have made a better TV movie or even a TV series much like Buffy. As a movie it is a little under-powered and that’s a pity as I wanted to like it more.

Delicacy

24 Nov

 

Directors: David Foenkinos, Stéphane Foenkinos

Writer: David Foenkinos (novel) (screenplay)

Stars: Audrey Tautou, François Damiens and Bruno Todeschini

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 108 minutes

 

What is it about Audrey Tautou? Probably the Amelie effect. Ever since she arrived in that stunning 2001 film she has been able to make movies like no other actress. In this film and many others (Beautiful Lies, Priceless, A Very Long Engagement) she is in almost every scene and placed right in the centre of every frame. She is allowed a voiceover and the camera seems to be at her beck and call. Her pixie presence is exalted. The pouty overbite, the ink black eyes, the asymmetric haircut, the megawatt smile are all on display and one wonders if the director is not a little smitten. It’s a strange phenomenon. I roll with it as I am partially smitten myself, but there are many out there, men and women alike, who struggle with Tautou.

In this French film she plays Nathalie, a young woman that loses her husband to a tragic accident and thereafter throws herself into work. Her career flourishes, but apart from fending off her lecherous boss she lives a very quiet and self-contained life. Men are attracted to her, but she is ambivalent towards them. She is difficult to read which makes her a strong boss, but exasperates close friends and family unsure about her recovery. Into her small life stumbles a colleague called Markus (Francois Damiens). He is a geeky accountant with fashion issues, bad teeth and a limited amount of life experience. He is delicate in the French sense of the word IE tactful and respectful, but he is no lady killer and physically a bit of a slob.

This film has its heart in the right place and is concerned with grief and how people move on with their lives. The central story is Nathalie and her surprising relationship with Markus. They are an unorthodox couple and the French obsession with social convention is dealt with in how others, mainly Nathalie’s friends and family, react to his appearance by her side. Those awkward scenes mostly provide humour and the film is certainly set up as an unconventional rom-com. That’s fine and it kind of works, but the few bigger laughs all come from Damiens as the unsuitable suitor. Besides him, it is not quite funny enough and Tautou for once can’t save the day. She’s nice, he’s charming and the oddball pairing is fun, but not a whole lot more.

Moonrise Kingdom

1 Nov

 

Director: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Bruce Willis

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 94 minutes

 

 

I always look forward to seeing the new Wes Anderson film, but I don’t come away completely satisfied every time. Rushmore was stunning, but I struggled with The Royal Tenebaums. I enjoyed The Life Aquatic a lot and The Darjeeling Limited was a pleasant distraction. Here on Moonrise Kingdom, however, I think that Anderson has surpassed those and delivered his best (live action) film to date. The expected Anderson whimsical themes and quirky production design are all present and I smiled widely from start to finish. It is a 90 minute delight.

The imaginary setting is the Island of New Penzance and the year is 1965. Bob Balaban, as the narrator, tells us that a big storm is approaching. Whilst the weather worsens we follow the exploits of two 12 year olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). They run away from the khaki scout troop (Sam) and from a big eccentric family (Suzy) to meet up and to have an adventure. Sam and Suzy are in love. They are also misunderstood by their friends and family. Sam is described as being “emotionally disturbed” whilst Suzy is tagged with having “so many problems”. As such they get each other and are content to leave adults and other meddlers far behind.

Like all of Anderson’s films this one is meticulously styled and shot. It is beautiful to look at and each scene opens with some artfully clever framing. The opening credits alone are genius. Colours are vibrant throughout and the imaginary island, that in the real world would be somewhere like Martha’s Vineyard, provides great backdrops to the search for the runaways. Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman return and are both typically excellent. In addition Edward Norton is great as the zealous scout leader, Bruce Willis convinces as the tired police chief and both Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand impress. It is a great cast.

There are few laugh-out-loud moments in Moonrise Kingdom however it is sweet and funny throughout. A lot of that comes from Sam and Suzy as the runaway couple – he with the Davy Crocket hat and her with the binoculars. Sure their romance is over-blown and open for cynicism, but you would have to be stone hearted not to root for them.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

25 Sep

 

Director: Lasse Hallström

Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Paul Torday (novel)

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Amr Waked

Motion Picture Rating: 12A

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

There was a time, not that long ago, when I went out of my way to miss films that featured Ewan McGregor. He thoroughly annoyed me. Wooden, half-arsed acting, that peculiar grin of his and yet he still landed good roles. I didn’t understand it and instantly took a dim view of those three Star Wars episodes and the likes of Big Fish and The Island. However, I am altering my position and this film is a part of the process that started with The Ghost and then included Beginners and Perfect Sense (both reviewed here on SSR). McGregor is winning me over.

In this film McGregor nicely inhabits the role of an old before his time government fisheries expert. As Dr Alfred Jones he wears natty shirt, tie and cardigan combinations and is stiff and off-hand with his colleagues. At home he has a sober, but passionless and faltering marriage. McGregor retains his natural Scottish accent for the role and layers on a rather dour and sarcastic personality to great effect (all rather Gordon Brown). Dr Jones’ uneventful life changes when a representative of a sheikh approaches him with a project to develop salmon fishing in the Yemen that is seized upon by a UK government spin doctor looking for positive middle eastern news. He tries to resist the sheikh’s “theoretically possible” pet project, but is forced to participate.

Along with McGregor there is the hard working, but always fresh Emily Blunt supporting the sheikh and Kristin Scott Thomas as the interfering government PR wonk. It is a nice ensemble with Amr Waked equally effective as Sheikh Muhammed. Scott Thomas channels a bit of Malcolm Tucker so her scenes have a nice touch of The Thick of It about them. Apart from the odd bit of twee spiritual twaddle coming from the sheikh, it is difficult to fault the film. It has that nice, slow and lazy Sunday afternoon feel to it and that’s not such a bad thing. McGregor and Blunt are charming together and for once director Lasse Hallstrom keeps it tight and refrains from over sentimentality.

Perfect Sense

2 Jul

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson (screenplay)

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green and Lauren Tempany

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 92 minutes

 

 

 

This is an odd little film that had a limited run in cinemas. IMDB labels it as drama / romance / sci-fi and certainly it covers those bases. The drama and the romance are delivered by way of the relationship between scientist Susan (Eva Green) and chef Michael (Ewan McGregor). This is the heart of the film. Michael is cocky, but charming and he pursues the rather severe Susan, a neighbour to his Glaswegian restaurant. They fall into bed quickly, sexual chemistry to the fore, and later they fall in love.

The sci-fi element concerns a mysterious global epidemic that shuts down human senses. At first people lose their sense of smell – severe olfactory syndrome or SOS as it is labelled – and then go taste, hearing and finally sight. In advance of losing one’s senses the affected suffer strange, but related episodes of a psychological trauma. Before losing taste people devour food feverishly and before losing hearing they scream and rant uncontrollably.

This is an art house film and as such it contains strange and clever camera shots, archival footage and it jumps back and forth in time. All of that is handled well and the film mostly looks good. Unfortunately the sound quality, certainly on my DVD, was dire and not helped by an over-bearing soundtrack and some heavy Scottish accents. It might have been on purpose, but I often found it too difficult to follow the dialogue – my own sensory challenge.

Eva Green, surely the world’s best looking scientist, improves through the film, but Ewan McGregor delivers a good performance from the first minute. Together they become a plausible couple and their relationship seems natural in what are highly abnormal times. Their descent into sensory darkness and Glasgow’s fall into anarchy become poignant and for an odd little film it managed to move me by the end. This is an interesting and touching film about love.

One Day

2 Mar

Director:Lone Scherfig

Writers:David Nicholls (screenplay), David Nicholls (book)

Stars:Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

The One Day novel sold over 1 million copies and was translated over 35 times worldwide. It was positioned as a romantic book with cross-gender appeal and it was evidently very popular. Whilst I did not see men reading it on the tube from 2009 to 2011, I certainly saw a lot of women engrossed in the story of university friends Dexter and Emma – the story of how their lives in London unfold and intersect after their graduation day on July 15 1988.

The screenplay for this film is by the writer of the book David Nicholls so I assume that it is faithful to the source material. The ‘gimmick’ of the novel remains as the story is told from the perspective of a series of July 15 days from 1988 to 2006. During that period Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) grow up, fall in and out of love, support each other through various travails, and constantly seem on the edge of becoming more than friends. Both struggle to put their carefree student days properly behind them and both are prone to loneliness in the big city. These themes are central to what is otherwise a conventional romantic drama.

In short, I really disliked this film. The story is ridden with clichés and feels highly manipulative. Throughout the almost endless run of July 15 days I had absolutely no empathy for Dexter or Emma. The two characters are flawed caricatures. He’s not sharp, but finds life easy whilst she’s smart, but socially awkward. He’s cool and she’s nerdy etc. Neither lead actor delivers a believable performance, but Anne Hathaway is hopelessly miscast. Her English accent is horrible and to give her the clumsy, nerdy and awkward ‘look’ she hangs out in doc martins and comedy glasses. Awful.

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