Cinema review: The Descendants

The Descendants

THE DESCENDANTS: 15

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne

STARRING: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause

FILMS – in their golden age – used to rely almost solely on two things: a good tale performed by good actors.

There was no curtain of CGI to hide behind or big budget special effects, in fact the most they probably had to work with was a controlled explosion in a studio carpark.

The Descendants is a nod to that sort of old-time simplicity in that there’s no bloodshed or stunt doubles required – even the film’s setting on the islands of Hawaii plays second fiddle to its soap opera core.

This is a film that relies wholly on the drama of family life fraying at the seams and is a breath of fresh tropical air in these times of ostentatious film extravagance (which frankly, is starting to bore the tits right off me). 

George Clooney plays indifferent husband and father Matt King who finds out while his wife is in a coma that she was having an affair – borne of his workaholic neglect and her desperate housewife syndrome.

Clooney narrates the film in is his usual deadpan manner, telling paradise it can “go fuck itself” with fatigue rather than conviction, never really losing his rag as he rightly should, until he throws – woah, there! – a teddy bear across the room.

He bears the sudden weight of moral consciousness and responsibility with the underplayed manner he’s known for – all heavy sighs and furrowed brows as he comes to realise he needs to step up to the roles he has neglected.

As he tries to deal with the double whammy of his wife’s infidelity versus her imminent death, a duo of semi-delinquent daughters and a string of money-grabbing cousins nagging him to sell a Hawaiian beauty spot pile on the pressure.

Shailene Woodley, playing college student daughter, Alexandra, pins down middle class rebellion to a T and almost steals the show from Clooney with her smart mouth and wide-eyed incredulity (“Did you just spank me?!”) while Amara Miller strikes a heartbreaking balance between innocence and potty-mouthed copycat as ten-year-old  Scottie.

The Descendants – while flirting with the unspectacular at times – is a melodrama tinged with solemnity and seriousness with moments of quiet tragedy colouring it with poignancy.

It’s a tale of grief and loyalty, offset with a sprinkling of black humour, and it’s hard to argue with something quite that simple.

Advertisements

W.E. are not amused…

I doubt King Eddie was quite that ripped.

W.E: 15
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
DIRECTOR: Madonna
STARRING: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy

I DON’T think I’ve ever walked out of the cinema.

Mostly, I’ll sit through anything – no matter how dull – but even the added bonus of a giant bag of pic ‘n mix couldn’t keep me interested in W.E for longer than an hour.

The critics haven’t been kind to Madonna in her directorial debut and for that reason I wasn’t expecting a work of genius with her take on Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII’s torrid love affair.

With so many biopics on the loose at the moment (The Iron Lady, J.Edgar, etc), all the pop star legend had to do was look to her contemporaries to bash together a half-decent tale.

An abdicating king marrying an American divorcee is hardly lacking in the drama department, yet somehow in Madge’s scrawny grip the lust, shame and scandal plays second fiddle to a yawn-a-minute story featuring Abbie Cornish as a desperate housewife obsessed with Wallis Simpson.
 
In fact, too much of the story focuses on the dull plight of Wally Winthrop (Cornish), a former Sotherby’s researcher who mopes night after night around an exhibition dedicated to the former Duke and Duchess.

This is all in an effort to escape her unravelling home life (cheating husband, fertility issues, etc), but Cornish’s character is so annoying it’s hard to give a shit – particularly when she starts bawling over Simpson’s jewellery like it belonged to her dead mother.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, wet-Wally starts seeing Simpson in mirrors offering her life advice in the manner of a low-budget melodrama commissioned by A-level drama students, complete with camera spins and ghostly voice overs.

It’s a shame this wholly unecessary and irritating framework is given so much screen time and the gold-platter love story on which this film could have been served is so bizarrely in the backseat.

Andrea Riseborough is criminally overlooked for her performance as Simpson and James D’Arcy is far too tall to play such a well-known short arse, though it has to be said that by and large he plays the  abdicating King well.

Unfortunately they are both plagued by awkward direction and by that I mean a graduate of the school of lingering looks.

There’s merit in the well-observed art-deco aesthetics and fashionistas will drool over the sharp costumes and styling, but it’s like an apple pie with no filling – it looks golden and toasty on the outside but the inside is offensively empty.

W.E isn’t a crime to celluloid – though the over-long narrative is both confused and embarassing – but no attention to martinis and jazz can save the film from falling quite that short.

Final round-up: Leeds International Film Festival

Finisterrae

A SECOND week of films from the vast selection at Leeds International Film Festival threw up some oddball additions, not least of all Open Wings competitor, Finisterrae.

In what is undoubtedly one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, two ghosts who have tired of their other-worldly existence go on the road to Finisterre to seek advice on returning to the human world.

This debut work from Spain’s Sergio Caballero – co-director of the famous Sonar music festival – features snippets of an eclectic soundtrack, though its brilliance does not distract nearly enough from the heavy-handed manner in which the film desperately tries to push existential boundaries.

There are moments of humour to break up the obtrusive weirdness – the deadpan narrative between the ghosts’ dialogue does tickle on occasion, particularly when it transpires one of the two is depressed and there’s debate over the usefulness of keeping an appointment with a psychiatrist.

But rather than laughing at the film’s content I was rather more amused by the thought of its production, with camera crews sneaking out on night time jaunts to industrial estates to film two men covered in bed sheets standing in a ring of fire.

I also couldn’t help but wonder if animals – like children – are subject to the same rules and regulations of shorter working hours, and was the third main role of the steed in fact a job share with a second horse?

Having said that there was an erroneous scene where a fake horse with a rotating head replaced the real deal, for reasons largely unknown…

Together

Lukas Moodysson’s Together was a largely more comical affair than I anticipated as it followed the lives of those living in a hippy commune forced to make room for a housewife and a pair of precocious brats.

It’s the adults who live in this supposedly harmonious home who are exposed for their hypocrisies – flouting social norms for no real reason other than it was radical to do so – and the children who remark on their stupidity.

Marxists, nudists and vegans all get in a look-in as their 70s pad implodes with the frankly mundane: unrequited love, divorce, family spats, etc, but the film does strike a nice balance between funny and touching.

Shut Up Little Man

Music documentary Shut Up Little Man introduces us to an audio phenomenon that captured an underground music movement way before the internet reared its head.

Mid-west punks Eddie and Mitch have noisy neighbours and paper-thin walls to thank for their creativity as they set about recording.

Going viral before it was cool to do so, the pair recorded snippets of rows and recorded them to mix-tapes for friends,  which in turn sparked the interest of movie producers.


Sure, the dream was shortlived, but director Matthew Bates’ interviews with the protagonists provides a bittersweet ode to one of the earliest musical subcultures.

Preview: Leeds International Film Festival

Carey Mulligan in Shame

FILM: a breathtaking exercise in bringing the fantastic to life, a notion so wonderful it has captured the minds of film-makers for more than a century. For Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF), this year marks the city’s 25th celebration of the cinematic world.

The three-week event – which runs from November 3-20 – boasts a sparkling schedule of screenings, split over six categories bulging with new discoveries, exclusive previews and cherry-picked selections.

At the heart of the festival is its Official Selection category, showcasing emerging directors, fresh talent and classics from the archives.

The cream of the cinematic crop bookends LIFF’s special events with Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold kicking off the opening gala with her bold adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights on November 3.

Closing the gala on November 18 will be Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed Shame starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in what preview reviews promise is his finest performance to date.

Sandwiched inbetween on November 9 is an exclusive presentation of Silent Clowns – a homage to some of the finest pre-talkie actors in film history – hosted by one of Britain’s best-loved comedians, Paul Merton.

Irish murder tale, The Other Side of Sleep

Across the calendar, potential screen stealers include psychological drama Take Shelter which has Hollywood disaster-movie appeal, and Irish murder story, The Other Side of Sleep, which battles alongside 11 other UK premieres in the Golden Owl Competition.

Quirky selection entries include oddball fantasy, Finisterrae, hippy comedy, Together, and Romanian new-wave gem, Best Intentions.

Those who love their cinema served with a side of gore will rejoice that the much-loved Fano

Brit-pop beats: Pulp is the law

menon duo of events, Night and Day of the Dead, return to satiate the appetite for aliens (November 5 and 12 respectively).

For fans who love music and film in equal measure, this year’s home to documentary comes under Cinema Versa: a series of special events based on the festival aesthetic.

Tipped for success is The Beat is the Law – Fanfare for the Common People, which traces Sheffield’s musical history, with a large chunk dedicated to Brit-poppers, Pulp.

On an underground note, Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the tale of a viral phenomenan borne of paper thin walls and noisy neighbours.

Finally, and further proof audiences will be spoiled for choice this year, LIFF also boasts the world’s largest comic celebration, Thought Bubble, a selection of world animation and short film, and experiemntal showcase, Cherry Kino.

Visit http://www.leedsfilm.com/ for ticket prices, venues, and screening information.

Cinema review: Contagion

Jude - Kim and Aggy called, they want their suit back.

CONTAGION: 12A

DIRECTOR: Steven Soderberg


RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

CAST: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard

I ONCE saw a man on the bus read a newspaper, have a wild sneezing fit into its pages, then place it on the seat and leave.

I vowed there and then I would never again pick up second-hand reading material found on public transport – and it’s this unhygenic premise which makes Contagion uncomfortably believable.

Steven Soderberg’s tale of a killer virus threatening to wipe out the world is hardly new; in fact, the emergence in recent years of infectious diseases like SARS and swine flu are a sobering reminder that the plot is far from unrealistic.

In this particular race-against-time disaster movie, businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip to Hong Kong with what seems like a case of the sniffles.

In what must be the easiest pay check Paltrow has ever banked she suffers a fatal seizure within the film’s first few scenes, sparking a world-wide alert that a deadly contagion is on the loose and multiplying at a rate of killer knots.

Matt Damon gives a rather forgettable performance as husband Mitch, a turn as a desperate dad trying to keep his daughter from picking up the nasty bug. But the individual plights of those affected by the disease are frankly overshadowed by the scientific – and eminently more interesting – elements to the story.

Kate Winslet plays disease specialist Dr Erin Mears who attempts to stop the disease in its rapidly spreading tracks, but just as she hones in on the next contagious victim she contracts it herself and end up in a body bag.

Continuously killing people off is perhaps realistic if a virus quite so infectious were to exist but it eradicates any hope of forging a connection with the characters: case in point being an erroneous subplot involving Marion Cottilard which never really picks up despite its heartstring potential.

Jude Law – playing a smug conspiracy theorist masquerading as ‘journalist’ Alan Krumweide – is the only character that provides a real constant, yet he is the candidate most deserving of catching the deathly cold.

In nasty hack fashion he stirs a cauldron of propaganda causing riots among cure-seekers which hits squeamishly close to home in these times of social discontent.

With so many branches of disorder to keep track of it’s both easy to forget who is panicking where and hard to care whether they survive as they trample over each other to save Number One.

But the idea that something as innocuous as a handshake – albeit linked to an unfortunate chain of events involving a bat, a pig and a Chinese casino – can cause such catastrophe is not as far-fetched as one would imagine.

I guarantee you’ll think twice about touching handrails on public transport again.

One Day, I’ll forget this ever happened…

Hathaway and Sturgess in One Day

ONE DAY: 12A

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes


DIRECTOR: Lone Scherfig

STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall

STOP any girl between 20 and 35 years old in the street and ask her if she’s read One Day. Chances are, she’ll say yes.

Ask her if she thinks Anne Hathaway is Emma Morley – our geeky, gauche, ugly duckling – and chances are, she’ll say, no.

The reason why millions of people fell in love with Emma and her 20 year on-off love affair with best friend, Dexter, is because every single person who’s read it can relate in some way: love, missed opportunities, fate, career disasters; it’s all in there.

The yearly narrative is a gift that lends itself naturally to cinematic scenes and with author David Nicholls behind the screenplay, the only way to ruin this otherwise perfect union would be to commit a casting gaffe of epic proportions.

Sadly, that is what happened. 

With novels that reach cult status, especially on the scale of One Day, perfect casting is crucial. The producers got at least half of it right with the wonderful Jim Sturgess in the role of our arrogant anti-hero, Dex.

With all the media pre-occupation over whether Hathaway was right-slash-wrong for our heroine, it gave the relatively unknown actor carte blanche to outshine his A-list counterpart and he did – by miles.

In stark contrast to Emma’s character assassination at the hands of a tongue-tied Hathaway, the only word for Sturgess’ performance is “perfect”.

From the self-assured swagger of his youth to his downward Yuppie spiral, he nails each of Dexter’s mistakes with an accuracy that makes Hathaway’s acting seem one-dimensional in comparison.

The problem with sticking America’s sweetheart in the role of Emma is that putting a pair of 1980s NHS-issue glasses on her pretty little face does not a Morley make.

In fairness to Hathaway, some of the blame can be laid at the feet of Nicholls. At the novel’s heart is Emma’s voice: strong, opinionated and unfalteringly realistic as she struggles through her self-conscious 20s.

But for reasons unknown – and despite all of his screenplay control and general loyalty to the dialogue of the book – Nicholls slashes the critical stages in Emma’s life which put her on a moral par with Dex and his numerous indiscretions.

The effect is devastating. The point of the story is neither of the characters are supposed to be perfect, they’re real people with flaws who make stupid mistakes on their way to finding each other.

But the film gives Emma the Hollywood treatment by making her do no wrong – an unforgivable error that eradicates so much of what made the character rounded.

Which brings us to that criminal attempt at a Yorkshire accent, an aspect that could have so easily been avoided by the fact there is not one word of a mention in the film that Emma is supposed to be northern.

Why no-one stopped Hathaway abusing a horrifying combination of accents – ranging from mid-Atlantic to Received Pronunciation with a stop-off in the God Awful – is beyond comprehension.

A standard American-doing-an-English accent would have been irritating but acceptable. But when every line is a smorgasbord of incomprehensible dialects, the effect ranges from distracting to the outright fist-biting.

Was any of it salvageable? Sure – as a vanilla rom-com in the style of Richard Curtis, it’s fine. And despite the Hathaway disaster, the casting team showed much sense in the choice of Rafe Spall as irritating comedien Ian and Patricia Clarkson as Dex’s mother.

But if you’re looking for the power and effect that touched millions of readers, you won’t find it here. What makes it all the more sinful is it could have all been avoided, had they chosen a British actress and stuck to the perfect format that was handed over on a plate.

Review: The Inbetweeners

The Inbetweeners

THE INBETWEENERS: 15

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

DIRECTOR: Ben Palmer

STARRING: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas

ARE you a teenage boy? Or a teenage girl? Or a 20-something adult who remembers the daily pain of high school with a clarity you’d rather forget?

The beauty of The Inbetweeners’ jump to the big screen is that it captures with excruciating accuracy every embarrassing, idiotic and nauseating situation an 18-year-old lives to regret.

Disastrous sexual encounters? Covered. Blind stupidity? Most definitely. Unrelenting torture at the hands of parents, girls and the biggest critics of all, your mates? In all its painstaking glory.

When the jokes aren’t flirting with your gag reflex, you’re cringing from behind your fingers. Picking up where the wildly successful E4 series left off, the sitcom spin-off shines an unflattering spotlight on the boys’ final summer before university.

Simon is wallowing after being dumped by Carly, Jay still reckons he’s a suburban Lothario, Will continues to look permanently constipated and Neil is as dim as ever.

The clueless foursome head to Crete in search of sex, booze and girls: a Lads on Tour holiday where the likelihood of any of them bagging a bird would be a genuine miracle. Teenage boys can be absolutely vile at the best of times but stick them on a package holiday to Malia and the inevitably for disaster multiplies with every ill-advised shot of Ouzo.

Duped by a commission-hungry rep the boys spend the first evening in a bar that resembles a Blackpool bingo hall. They attempt to impress a group of attractive girls by dancing in an epileptic chorus line and predictably fail to capitalise on the golden opportunity that’s fallen into their hapless laps.

Despite their ineptitude the girls continue to cross the lads’ paths offering more sympathy than they rightly deserve. Sadly none of our desperate heroes could pull a girl unless they were implanted with magnets.

For anyone that’s been on an 18-21 two-weeker, The Inbetweeners captures the atmosphere in all its seedy, fake-tanned glory – in years to come when 4D cinema is all the rage the aroma of fresh vomit and Lynx will be overpoweringly emanating from the screen.

Though largely unrepeatable the dialogue is razor sharp, side-splittingly visceral and 100 per cent believable. There’s not a G-string out of place and nor is there a moment where the comedy flops. It’s a coming-of-age film for anyone whose formative years spanned the last three decades and its occasional sweetness and horror-show antics make it one of this year’s best offerings.