August 12 Releases
In 1994 Nicholas Barclay, a thirteen-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage boy, goes missing from his Texas home. Three years later the Barclay family are shocked to receive a call from Spain saying that a man claiming to be Nicholas has turned up. It is revealed to the viewer at this point that this man is actually Frederic Bourdin, a twenty-three-year-old French-Algerian with a long record of identity theft. But, bizarrely, despite the impostor having different colour hair, different coloured eyes (a feature he tries to explain away with a lurid tale of kidnap and torture) and a marked French accent, he is accepted by the family. Puzzling over the reasons he has been received so readily Bourdin begins to muse on who really is the victim in his scam. Attempting to get to the bottom of the mystery, director Layton stages a series of recreations by actors, and conducts several to camera interviews with the disparate range of striking characters involved. Most memorable perhaps is Charlie Parker, a dogged southern detective who claims to be the first to discover the discrepancy: ‘The ears didn’t match’ as he pithily puts it. It’s a deeply disturbing tale, which brings to mind that other mystery documentary ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ in that the more information the viewer is presented with the more impenetrable the puzzle gets. You really, really couldn’t make it up. Unmissable.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman Stars: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters
Pixar studios have raised the bar so high for CGI animation (the merchandise-shifting ‘Cars’ films excepted) that any picture that is not groundbreaking feels like a major disappointment. This handsomely rendered adventure is a case in point. The story takes place during an unspecified time in Scotland’s mystical past. Macdonald voices Merida, a young tomboyish princess who, with her love of archery and horse-riding, takes far more after her boisterous dad King Fergus (voiced by an amusingly lairy Connolly) than her more conventional mum Queen Elinor (Thompson). When the Queen decrees that her daughter is to be married off in order to unite the tribes, and Merida clocks her sorry gallery of potential suitors, she flees on horseback. In the forest she meets a witch (Walters) whom she asks for a spell to change her mother’s mind. Witches being witches, Merida gets more than she bargained for. The highland environs are beautifully rendered and the dialogue, thankfully, feels more authentically Scottish than Brigadoon-style Hollywood Scottish. The surprisingly violent albeit booze-free early scenes of court life have a knockabout charm but the ‘be true to yourself’ plotting feels a little rote, and Merida remains little developed beyond the spunky heroine template. Gorgeous hair though.
Director: Seth MacFarlane Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel McHale
This, the feature debut from Seth MacFarlane, creator / writer / voice artist behind hit cartoons ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’, features his trademark combination of edgy jokes and pop cultural referencing. It begins in 1985 with eight-year-old misfit boy John Bennett wishing that his beloved toy bear Ted could speak, a wish that is granted thanks to a falling star. An inspired montage shows Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, with a great, seamless clip of the bear charming the audience on ‘The Johnny Carson Show’. The story skips forward to present day where John is a thirty-five-year old slacker, and has-been Ted is his foul-mouthed stoner partner-in-indolence. When John’s long-suffering girlfriend Lori (Kunis) decides to take their relationship to a more serious level she insists that Ted move out. Ted still exerts an influence however and his offer of a night spent snorting coke with ‘Flash Gordon’ star Sam Jones proves too much for John to resist. Despite some tedious gay panic jokes and an over-reliance on pop culture nods, the film boasts a pretty impressive gag rate. Wahlberg’s wide-eyed child persona is perfect for this kind of material and MacFarlane achieves a moment of sublime silliness in a sequence in which Ted fights a neighbour’s vicious duck. And in its authentic evocation of blue-collar Boston the film is strangely redolent of the recent Ben Affleck thriller ‘The Town’.
Director: Fernando Meirelles Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, Dinara Drukarova, Gabriela Marcinkova, Jude Law, Maria Flor, Lucia Siposov, Moritz Bleibtreu
The latest from Meirelles, Brazilian director of ‘City of God’ and ‘The Constant Gardener’, is an unwieldy, multi-stranded drama, taking in locations such as Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio, Denver and Phoenix. Scripted by Peter ‘The Queen’ Morgan it explores notions of roads not taken and connectivity, through a range of disparate characters, including Hopkins’ grieving father; Weisz and Jude Law’s troubled married couple; Flor’s heartbroken young Brazilian woman; and Siposov’s Slovakian prostitute. It’s redolent of fellow South American Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s narrative-juggling films, ‘Babel’ and ‘21 Grams’, and suffers similarly from an overly schematic feel, as well as its tendency to feature characters as tropes rather than fully formed individuals; Moritz Bleibtreu’s creepy German businessman being the most egregious example. The overarching feel of portentousness and phoniness is evidenced in the overused motif of a plane taking off, and in the casting, with almost all of the female leads boasting model-grade looks. And most damagingly the picture includes two credibility-defying scenes in which a beautiful, potentially vulnerable young woman forces a conversation with an imposing and dangerous-looking man. Hopkins shows some class in a touching monologue at victims’ support group but it’s a rare moment of recognisable humanity in a disappointing and often silly middlebrow picture.
The Dinosaur Project
Director: Sid Bennett Stars: Matt Kane, Richard Dillane, Peter Brooke, Natasha Loring
The found footage craze trundles on with diminishing results with this uninspired horror adventure which chronicles the quest of a band of scientists who venture into the Congo in order to investigate sightings of Mokele Mbembe, the ‘African Loch Ness Monster’. British ‘crypto-zoologist’ Marchant (Dillane) is the leader of a team that also includes a camera crew, a cutesy American medical grad (Loring), and unbeknownst to Marchant, his gadget freak estranged teenage son Luke (Kane) who has stowed away. No sooner has the band set off than their helicopter collides with one of a swarm of huge pterodactyl-looking birds (they didn’t take much finding) and crashes in the jungle. Power struggles rage as the group tries to survive, while Luke befriends a Dino-style young dinosaur he names Krypto – this is very much a film with a school holidays audience in mind. Attempts at drumming up tension are fluffed due to a leaden script, shallow characterisation and performances that are at best variable. The found footage approach does little to enhance the action and, while the effects are impressive enough, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before.
Take This Waltz
Director: Sarah Polley Stars: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman Canadian actor-turned-director Polley’s follow-up to the excellent and accomplished debut ‘Away from Her’ is a bold and ambitious but flawed and fussy dissection of a dissolving relationship. Williams is Margot a freelance writer settled into a seemingly happy marriage with cookbook author Lou (Rogen). During a long hot summer Margot begins to gravitate towards neighbour Daniel (Kirby), a good-looking rickshaw puller and artist (indie movie vocation alert!). As the relationship deepens the picture charts the consequences on Margot and Lou’s marriage, and on their wider circle of friends. Polley and her fearless duo of leads are very good here in depicting the intimate details of a familiar couple’s relationship, the baby talk and the shared jokes, and their characters are recognisably nuanced, if not always particularly appealing. Despite this being Polley’s second effort it frequently feels more like a film grad’s debut with its obvious showy nods to French New Wave and Bergman – ‘Summer with Monika’ being a notable influence. The director’s attention to the minutiae of her characters’ lives is more distracting than enriching, and Polley clumsily telegraphs one of the film’s themes in the opening scene at an airport where Margot, awaiting her connection, confesses that she ‘hates being inbetween things.’ A shame because there is some good stuff in here, and Williams is never less than watchable.
And the rest: Jeremy Renner assumes the identity of the rogue espionage agent in ‘The Bourne Legacy’; Loads of hard blerks team up again in ‘The Expendables 2’; ‘The Three Stooges’ is the Farrelly Bros big screen re-imagining of the knockabout US comedy trio’s adventures; An IRA member becomes an informant for the MI5 in order to protect her son in 1990’s Northern Ireland in ‘Shadow Dancer’.