Film of the Month: The Hunt
Director: Thomas Vinterberg Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Danish director Vinterberg’s career has failed to live up to the promise of his dazzling debut, the Dogma classic ‘Festen’. While not a complete return to form his latest is a gripping and timely thriller with a rich seam of black humour. Mikkelson is Lucas, a small town teacher who, due to cuts, is helping out at a kindergarten. He is adored by the children, has an active social life, drinking and hunting with his rowdy friends, and has just embarked on a promising courtship with a beautiful co-worker. His life is turned upside down however when a little girl, possibly inspired by a brief glance at her older brother’s online porn, accuses Lucas of exposing himself to her. The panic stricken head of the school is all too willing to believe her, and Lucas, who has not been informed of his accuser or the exact nature of the complaint, is suspended. He is vilified and hounded by the hitherto close-knit community, with only one loyal friend standing by him. Vinterberg presents a horrifyingly convincing study of how rumours and hearsay can snowball into outright hysteria and violence, but peppers the harrowing story with pitch black humour; one sequence in which Lucas crashes a Christmas Eve service is almost unwatchable. Mikkelsen, the deserving winner of the best actor trophy at Cannes, is outstanding as the beleaguered and helpless protagonist.
Director: James Ponsoldt Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan McNally
This fine indie drama features an extraordinary central performance from Winstead, who is best known as the object of Michael Cera’s desire in ‘Scott Pilgrim’. She is Kate, a primary school teacher with a drinking problem. She lives with her husband Charlie (Paul), a fellow alcoholic and slacker music journo. They lead a ramshackle existence but are just about getting by. But after a particularly turbulent night which culminates in a crack smoking session with a complete stranger, Kate realises that it is time to clean up. The shy deputy head, Mr Davies (Offerman), offers help, and her husband is initially supportive, if not to the extent of actually going dry himself. Writer / director Ponsoldt’s sharp script strikes a keen balance in its depiction of the darker side of their drinking, as well as the more fun, freewheeling aspects of Kate and Charlie’s life; indeed it is intimated that alcohol is all that is holding them together. Winstead is great as the capable and smart young woman with the tragically destructive flaw to overcome. The only real minus point is the slightly contrived subplot involving an overly supportive school head.
Rise of the Guardians
Director: Peter Ramsey Featured voices: Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Jude Law
This festive animated fantasy adventure, based on the ‘The Guardians of Childhood’ series of books by William Joyce, is spectacular enough but would be more palatable if it wasn’t constantly insisting how magical it all is. The titular Guardians are a quartet of magical figures charged with protecting the innocence of children. They are leader ‘North’ a boisterous Slavic Santa Claus, (voiced by Alec Baldwin), Easter Bunny ‘Bunny’ (Jackman), Tooth Fairy ‘Tooth’ (Fisher), and silent Sandman ‘Sandy’. The embittered bogeyman ‘Pitch’ (Law) appears with threats to stop children believing in the Guardians and turning their childhood dreams into a constant nightmare. The moon (who is charged with this sort of thing apparently), rather than picking one of the Guardians to champion the children, selects the rebellious loner Jack Frost (Pine). The use of 3D is impressively dazzling but the bombardment of flash and noise makes the picture feel more like a theme park ride than the homage to wonder presumably intended. The distracting air of busyness is compounded by a script that is heavy with exposition-laden speechifying. Tellingly it’s the silent Sandy, who communicates only through floating golden sand tableaux, that is the most compelling, and, yes, wondrous character.
Director: Ben Wheatley Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies
Director Wheatley’s follow-up to the nerve-shredding ‘Kill List’ is another genre-defying picture, this time mixing parochial British comedy and the serial killer genre to frustratingly slight effect. Oram and Lowe are the courting Brummie couple Chris and Tina. In order to get away from Tina’s monstrously domineering mother they set off on a caravanning holiday with the intention of visiting various little England delights, tram and pencil museums and the like. As the trip progresses however cracks begin to show in Chris’ hitherto genial demeanour (hints of a bullied past are alluded to), and an altercation with a posh rambler gives way to brutal violence. Wheatley retains his ability to evoke a sense of latent evil in the small town English environs, and the script is amusingly deadpan, even if the deployment of Brummie accents to convey the duo’s gaucheness feels like a lazily obvious shortcut. But once the ‘Nuts in May’ meets ‘Natural Born Killers’ conceit is established, the script, co-written by the leads, seems unsure where to take it, and Chris and Tina’s caravan odyssey into the heart of darkness runs out of road.
Director: Martin McDonagh Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson
Writer / director McDonagh’s follow-up to the excellent ‘In Bruges’ is a wildly ambitious, frequently amusing but flawed comedy thriller in the Tarantino vein. Firth is L.A. based Irish writer, Marty. His first film was a smash but since then he has suffered writer’s block. His latest half-baked idea, which he pitches to his oafish friend Billy (Rockwell) is a Buddhist gangster film called ‘Seven Psychopaths’ (this is one of a slew of meta touches). Little does Marty know that real inspiration is right under his nose, as Billy, along with his dapper, elderly partner-in-crime Hans (Walken), while conducting a dog-napping scam, snatch the beloved pooch of dangerous mob boss, Charlie (Harrelson). The dialogue sparkles, and the top rate cast are universally great, although Rockwell’s mugging may not be to all tastes. McDonagh even manages a surprisingly moving subplot involving Walken’s character among all the postmodern hi-jinx. But the constant self-reflexive touches end up swamping the narrative, and while genre aficionados may enjoy the numerous nods to other pictures, those expecting a straightforward tale are likely to be frustrated. By the third act the story has long disappeared up its own conceptual conceit.
Director: Mike Newell Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger
An air of redundancy hangs heavy over this dutiful but dull adaptation of the Dickens classic, which arrives mere months after the superior BBC TV version. Irvine who barely registered as the lead in ‘War Horse’ (he didn't play the horse obv) is equally bland as Pip, the callow young man, brought up by his spiteful sister and her kindly blacksmith husband, who is thrust into Victorian London society after the intervention of a mystery benefactor. The script by David ‘One Day’ Nicholls crams way too much incident into a mere two-hour running time (those unfamiliar with the book may wish to bone up beforehand) and struggles for contemporary relevance with a Bullingdon Club-style depiction of rowdy dandies at play. The much anticipated appearance of Bonham Carter gothing it up as the embittered jilted bride Miss Haversham turns out to be a bit of a damp squib with the actor reigning it in where she should be letting loose. Her sepia-tinted dress is cool though, so there is that.
Trouble with the Curve
Director: Rob Lorenz Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Eastwood takes time off from directing and talking to furniture to star in this feeble and sentimental sports pic meets family drama. He is Gus, a grizzled old baseball talent scout for the Atlanta Braves, in danger of being retired because of his old school ways (e.g. he has no computer). He also has a thorny relationship with his daughter Mickey (Adams), a lawyer about to be made partner in a top firm. With Gus’s health visibly deteriorating his good friend and colleague Pete (Goodman) suggests that Mickey accompanies Gus to North Carolina on a scouting mission to keep an eye on his condition. Mickey accepts, despite her concerns about how this will affect her career. There souls are bared, family issues thrashed out, and Gus is reunited with the once boy-most-likely pitcher turned scout Johnny Flanagan (a miscast Timberlake). The film with its too-neat script, cartoonish bad guys, and over reliance on cliché, sports all the nuance of an afternoon TV film. Eastwood is merely coasting here, his ornery old curmudgeon act already familiar from movies such as ‘Gran Torino’ and ‘Space Cowboys’. Adams does her best but Goodman is wasted in a role which requires him to do little more than twinkle adoringly at Eastwood’s supposedly indefatigable and lovable old codger.
And the rest: Martin Freeman breaks the shackles of sidekick-hood to star as adventure hungry hobbit Bilbo Baggins in the first installment of Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Tolkien adaptation, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’; Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg’s divorcing couple try to maintain their friendship in ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’; A young castaway forms an unlikely alliance in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestseller ‘Life of Pi’; A blacksmith in Feudal China must defend his fellow villagers when a band of warriors descend in the RZA’s ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’; Tom Cruise is the titular retired U.S Major turned drifter in ‘Jack Reacher’.