Film of the Month: Wreck-it Ralph
Director: Rich Moore Featured voices: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
This wildly entertaining Disney CGI animation marries smart pop cultural riffing with an emotionally rewarding narrative. Reilly voices the titular character, a hulking computer game villain who has spent every day for thirty years smashing a tenement building with his huge fists. He was designed to be the nemesis of the relentlessly perky repair man Fix-it Felix Jr. (perfectly voiced by ‘30 Rock’s’ McBrayer) but, tired of being typecast as the bad guy and the incessant disproval of the game’s townsfolk, Ralph decides to jump ship to another game in order to earn himself a medal. Following a tip off from a shell-shocked soldier he selects the ‘Halo’-like futuristic combat game ‘Hero’s Duty’, and later winds up in teen girls’ cart racing game ‘Sugar Rush’. There he is taunted by misfit little girl Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman) but they later team up when a menace threatens the whole arcade. Computer game connoisseurs will relish the numerous nods to other games, particularly an early sequence in which Ralph attends a support group for baddies populated by a host of familiar faces, but beyond the in-jokes there is a touching tale of mismatched friends finding common cause. The various worlds are beautifully realised from the primitive 8-bit design of Ralph’s native game, to the meticulously-detailed candy coloured environs of ‘Sugar Rush’ (which may prove too relentlessly flashy for grown-ups), and the voice cast are uniformly great.
Director: Robert Zemeckis Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
Director Zemeckis takes some time off from ‘uncanny valley’ motion capture animations such as ‘Beowulf’ and ‘The Polar Express’ for this self-consciously serious drama. Washington is Whip Whitaker, a skilled airline pilot with a serious drink and drugs habit. A nerve-shredding early sequence shows an under the influence Whitaker executing a masterful manoeuvre which saves his airliner from crashing, and the pilot is initially hailed as a hero, but when the investigation into the accident finds traces of drugs and alcohol in his blood a potentially career-wrecking hearing is set up. A sympathetic union rep and friend of Whip’s hires a no-nonsense lawyer Hugh Lang (Cheadle) who is frustrated by Whitaker’s evasive manner. Washington, clearly relishing the opportunity to get his teeth into a nice meaty part, delivers a richly nuanced turn, but the maudlin tone and meandering narrative become a little wearing over the lengthy running time, while Goodman as Harling Mays, Whitaker’s drug dealer, looks like he has wandered in from another movie – ‘The Big Lebowski’ to be specific. A woefully ill-advised comic scene in which Mays and Whitaker’s legal team attempt to sober the pilot up in time for his hearing almost derails the drama entirely.
This is 40
Director: Judd Apatow Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow
Paul Rudd and Leslie Man’s married couple Pete and Debbie, who featured in a supporting role in comedy writer / director Judd Apatow’s ‘Knocked Up’ take centre stage for Apatow’s only occasionally funny, sprawling and overlong comic drama. As well as struggling with their differing feelings about reaching middle age, Pete and Debbie are juggling raising their two bickering daughters with keeping their respective businesses afloat; he runs a struggling labour-of-love indie label; she a boutique which is very possibly being ripped off by one of the employees. Much yapping about feelings and stuff ensues while various US comedy regulars (Jason Segel, and Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy) drop by intermittently to deliver just enough chuckles to keep audiences on board, although all too often the comic scenes descend into shrill shouting matches. Alas, Apatow makes it near impossible to sympathise with his privileged characters, who bemoan their financial state while living in a palatial house and heading away for luxurious weekend breaks when the mood takes them. John Lithgow and Albert Brooks manage to bring a little recognisable, ragged humanity to their roles as Pete and Debbie’s flawed dads but the overarching feel here is smug and self-congratulatory.
Director: Michaël R. Roskam Stars: Matthew Schoenaerts, Jeroean Percival, Jeanne Dandoy
This involving but over-complicated noirish study of revenge plays out against the backdrop of the Belgian bovine hormone-dealing racket - no, really. Schoenaerts from ‘Rust and Bone’ (made after this picture) is Jacky, a hulking young farmer involved in dealing illegal hormones for cattle - he also ingests dangerous amounts of hormones and steroids himself. When a policeman investigating the practice is murdered Jacky instructs his men to lay low, but a mix-up involving a car brings trouble to their door anyway. The picture flashbacks to a shocking incident in Jacky’s childhood which leaves him emotionally and physically scarred, and which has inhibited his subsequent dealings with others. Director Roskam’s distillation of dark redemption tale and oddball (the Coen brothers’ influence is evidenced in scenes featuring two boneheaded Walloon mechanics), does not quite congeal, and an excess of plot strands distract from the themes rather than augment them. But this is muscular and ambitious film making and features an accomplished performance by Schoenaerts who skilfully melds imposing intensity and touching vulnerability.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Director: Roger Michell Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams
There is more than a whiff of calculation about this dull period piece which was adapted from a BBC radio play - it may as well have been titled ‘King’s Speech II’. The year is 1939 and George VI (West) and Queen Elizabeth (Coleman) are making their way to President Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat in order to petition him into persuading the American populace to join the war. Meanwhile Roosevelt (Murray) has just begun an affair with his fifth cousin Daisy (Linney) which he barely bothers to conceal. A stiflingly middlebrow feel pervades throughout, while the picture’s portrayal of the twinkle-eyed, avuncular Roosevelt, while acknowledging his flaws, fails to address the emotional fallout he leaves in his wake; and despite the starstruck Daisy’s romantic diary musings (featured in voiceover) the relationship comes across as tawdry and sad. As Elizabeth, Colman does some mildly amusing eyebrow-raising at the colonials’ lack of respect for etiquette, with the prospect of being made to eat hot dogs for a photo opportunity particularly vexing, and there is a touching scene in which the President and the King have a tete-a-tete and bond over their shared disabilities, but otherwise this is pretty vapid stuff.
A Liars Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
Directors: Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett Featured voices: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam
This hopeless adaptation of Graham Chapman’s memoirs attempts in vain to recapture the inspired anarchic spirit of Monty Python. Various vignettes dealing with Chapman’s childhood covering his years at Cambridge, his budding homosexuality and his various addictions, are presented in no particular order, all illustrated with a selection of animations of varying quality and accompanied by voice work from Pythons, Palin, Jones and Cleese (no Eric Idle though). The chronological leaping back and forth makes it virtually impossible to engage with the animations, which will inevitably face comparisons with Terry Gilliam’s far more accomplished and distinctive work, and range from the prosaic to the just plain ugly.
And the rest: The Wachowski siblings return to tackle an adaptation of David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’, this month's ‘unfilmable’ novel; billowing wheat and spiritual ruminations (probably) in Terrence Malick’s ‘To the Wonder’; Anthony Hopkins sports dodgy makeup as the titular director in ‘Hitchcock’; Bruce Willis returns as John McCLane travels to Russia to see his son and ends up in more hot water in ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’; Brit romcom ‘I Give It a Year’ mixes glossy Richard Curtis locales with U.S. scatological humour to occasionally funny effect.