October 12 Releases
Film of the Month: Frankenweenie
Director: Tim Burton Featured voices: Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder
Burton’s new picture is (gasp!) almost a return to form. The director goes back to his roots, literally, with this extended stop motion animated version of his 1984 live action short, a witty retelling of the Frankenstein story. When young suburbanite Victor (Tahan) loses his much-loved dog Sparky in a road accident, he sets about re-animating the pet using the know-how he garnered in a school science lesson on the applications of electricity. Miraculously his experiments succeed in bringing a slightly manky Sparky back to life, but Victor is unable to maintain his secret from the neighbourhood and soon classmate rivals are conducting their own experiments with perilous results. Following oafish and overblown fare such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ this feels like a homecoming for the director, with a suburban misfit hero who recalls Edward Scissorhands and Pee-wee Herman, and a script that combines sweetness and the macabre to engaging effect. The stop motion animation captured in crisp black and white is meticulously rendered and features several loving homages to classic Universal horror pictures, as well as a fond nod to our own Hammer studios. There’s a slight drag in the middle act but the climax is suitably spectacular and boasts a splendid extended sea monkeys gag. Tim Burton’s imaginative spark – to quote Colin Clive: ‘It’s alive!’
On the Road
Director: Walter Salles Stars: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart
Walter ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ Salles delivers a faithful adaptation of the (apparently not) unfilmable Jack Kerouac Beat Generation-defining novel with all the inherent problems that suggests. Riley from ‘Control’ is Sal Paradise, a 1947 New York-dwelling writer, drawn to the charismatic, womanising, free spirit Dean Moriarty (Hedlund). An invitation to visit Dean and his new wife Marylou (Stewart) in Denver commences a series of cross-country trips for the duo, in which they philosophise about life, while picking up then ditching part time jobs and women. The characters’ self-mythologising can be a little wearing and the meandering tone will not be too all tastes, but Hedlund, who barely registered in the recent ‘Tron’ sequel, makes a charismatic and complex Moriarty, and the free jazz score and jumpy editing imbue the film with a keen sense of the Beat milieu. And while Salles effectively conveys the romance of the road, he does not shy away from the emotional fallout these self-proclaimed free sprits leave in their wake, or the, at times, squalid existence they led. An epilogue in which the characters re-unite is very moving.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director: Benh Zeitlin Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Zeitlin’s Louisiana-set debut has already wowed the critics at film festivals; public reaction may be a little more mixed. Newcomer Wallis is Hushpuppy, a six-year-old who lives with her alcoholic father Wink (Henry) in adjoining shacks in the Bathtub, a remote, swampy Southern Delta community cut off from everywhere else by a huge levee. When a ferocious storm strikes the Bathtub and Wink falls ill, Hushpuppy must use all her courage and wits to survive. This bizarre dark fairytale is too oblique to be considered a Katrina allegory, and with its literary character names, simple but poetic Terrence Malick-style voiceovers, magic realist touches, and self-conscious ‘transcendent’ moments (Hushpuppy running with firecrackers blazing from each hand), the picture frequently feels contrived in its festival-friendly credentials. But it boasts some dazzling imagery and sports a winningly naturalistic performance by its young star as the ever-resilient young heroine that manages to rise above the pretension.
Ginger & Rosa
Director: Sally Potter Stars: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Spall, Annette Bening
A little on the slow side but Potter’s 60s-set, presumably autobiographical, coming-of-age tale has its moments. Fanning, sporting a very convincing British accent, is Ginger, a middle class girl on the cusp of womanhood agonising about the threat of nuclear annihilation. Her friend, the more street smart Rosa (Englert), lives for the moment. Things are not going well in Ginger’s home life with constant squabbling between her father Roland (Nivola), a radical journalist who was once jailed for his pacifist beliefs, and mother (Hendricks), an artist stifled by domesticity. When they separate Ginger’s demands to live with her dad throws up a whole new set of problems, and places a strain on her friendship with Rosa. Seen through the eyes of her young protagonist, Potter’s script cleverly skewers the disconnect between her parents’ high ideals and their practical application, while evoking the boho 60s milieu without resort to obvious cultural signifiers. American Nivola and Hendricks’ performances however feel a little mannered, Nivola’s Roland dull when he should be seductively exciting, and the luminous Hendricks not quite convincing as a downtrodden house frau.
Director: Olivier Megaton Stars: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija
There’s a difference between giving audiences what they want and a lazy cynical cash grab. This pointless sequel to the entertainingly daft ‘Taken’ goes for the latter option, rehashing the combination of breathless action, defiantly corny script and not so mild xenophobia to underwhelming effect. Retired CIA agent Bryan Millls (Neeson) is about to take a business trip to Istanbul. In an effort to reunite his family he invites his daughter Kim (Grace) and estranged wife Lenore (Janssen) along. Little does the family know that evil Albanian Murad (Serbedzija), the father of the men Bryan tortured and executed last time around for kidnapping his daughter in Paris, is hell-bent on revenge. Shortly after Lenore and Kim arrive in Istanbul another kidnap is launched and Bryan needs to deploy all his CIA know-how to get them back. There are a few laughs to be had at the gleeful ‘Team America’-style trashing of the Istanbul locations as well as the casual throwing of locals out of cars when a ride is required. But whereas ‘Taken’ boasted a brisk pace, this sequel, save for one fairly exciting car chase, is pretty dull fare. And despite his splendid moniker director Olivier Megaton fluffs the fight scenes with blurry editing too frantic to follow.
Director: Jonathon Dayton, Valerie Faris Stars: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan
As well as writing and producing this ambitious but frustratingly flawed indie comedy, Zoe Kazan also casts herself as the titular dream girl - hark at her! Dano, in slightly more animated mode, is Calvin Weir-Fields a writer who, a decade previously, had a huge success with his debut novel but since has struggled with writer’s block. His imagination is re-ignited when he begins to write about kooky dream girl Ruby Sparks. Calvin is shocked when his fictional creation appears in his apartment. A romance with a be-careful-what-you-wish-for message ensues. There is interesting material to be mined here, in exploring how we project our hopes needs and aspirations onto possible life partners, and in its potentially rich deconstruction of the kooky indie archetype. But the ‘real world’ characters that surround Ruby are just as whimsical and affected as the heroine; a curiously self-defeating move from the makers, although directors Faris and Dayton have already exhibited a knack for self-conscious indie twee with their debut ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon Featured voices: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston
CGI animation studio Dreamworks do not veer from the original template so much as tear it up altogether with this relentlessly busy and overcrowded but nonetheless fairly fun sequel. We catch up with the characters – pack leader Lion Alex (Stiller), Zebra Marty (Rock), shy giraffe Melman (Schwimmer), and sassy hippo Gloria (Smith) - where we left off last time, in Madagascar, as they plan to make their way back to Central Park Zoo. First they have to stop in Monaco where the plotting penguins are utilising their plane to stage a casino heist for some reason. The heist attracts the unwanted attention of a relentless and ruthless animal control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (McDormand), so the animals smuggle themselves into a rundown trans-European touring circus. There they encounter a sexy jaguar trapeze artist Gia (Chastain) and Vitaly, a stunt Serbian tiger who has lost his nerve, voiced with a touching display of wounded dignity by ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Cranston. Grown-ups may find the constant noise and flash a bit much, but the animation is undeniably impressive, the chase sequences exciting and Sacha Baron Cohen is amusing as oddball Lemur king Julien.
Director: Josh Radnor Stars: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron
This indiecentric college-set drama has its moments but the pull of the mainstream takes its toll. Radnor, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Jesse, a thirty-something, directionless New York-dwelling school admissions advisor, invited to the retirement dinner of his favourite professor Peter (Jenkins) back in Ohio’s Kenyon College. While hanging out on campus Jesse meets the charming nineteen-year-old student Zibby (Olsen from ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’) and an affair ensues. There’s more than a whiff of wish fulfilment in the lead character’s seeming irresistibility to women, while Olsen’s character is a little too mature to be believable – the script clumsily inserts a ‘Twilight’ reference to remind us that Zibby is still a teen. Otherwise this is an affable and nicely played bittersweet comedy drama, which boasts some smart observations on how a career in humanities can arrest personal and emotional development. Excellent support too from Jenkins as the professor belatedly agonising over his decision to retire, and Janney, hilarious as a spiky and cynical teacher of romantic poetry.