Talking Movies

October 26, 2012

Skyfall

Director Sam Mendes nostalgically marks James Bond’s 50th anniversary with a typically measured piece of work that is very enjoyable  but which never quite matches the heights of Casino Royale.

The thrilling opening sequence in  Turkey sees Daniel Craig’s 007 implacably pursue a man who has stolen a  hard-drive containing the identities of NATO agents undercover in terrorist  organisations. Unfortunately the pursuit ends disastrously courtesy of the  bungled intervention of his back-up agent Eve (Naomie Harris), carrying out M’s  ruthless orders. Judi’s Dench M is being threatened with retirement by new  Security Chairman Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) over this blunder but Bond, now a  broken man (he has a beard…) and champion of a Turkish drinking game involving  scorpions, only returns when MI6 HQ explodes. Bond returns to a rattled agency,  hiding in Churchill’s old war bunker, and with a ridiculously young new  Quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), who trades barbed insults with Bond and then equips  him with the needful to get back out into the field, where there’s always  terrible wear and tear. Bond’s search for the stolen list of agents leads him to  the sultry Severine (Berenice Lim Marlohe) and her sinister employer,  super-hacker Silva (Javier Bardem)…

When reviewing the pointlessly maligned Quantum of Solace I held out the hope that the  ideas surrounding Quantum might lead to a Bond 2.0 film even better than Casino Royale. Well, sadly Quantum and Felix Leiter  are absent from this movie, but one idea from Quantum, that M and Bond have almost a fraught  mother/son bond, has been amplified and given a dramatic counterpoint to power  this film’s twisting plot. Oddly this feels at times like a Nolan Bond not a  Mendes Bond. Mendes has drafted in some regulars: Thomas Newman replaces David  Arnold but fails to make much impact; indeed dramatic strings during the Tube  sequence are uncannily like Arnold’s motif for similar sequences on Sherlock. Roger Deakins though gives the  mirrors motif of the title credits dazzling life in the Shanghai sequence which  is all reflective glass, and blue and green neon, while the night-time Macau  sequence is just gorgeously staged in warm oranges. But the crumbling city where  Silva has his lair screams Inception, a  plot twist is a familiar gambit from The Dark  Knight, and Rises echoes in the  constant references to Bond being a physical wreck, and the persistent  questioning of why this rich orphan continues to risk his life.

The deliberately measured pace of the movie is pure Mendes and he even  produces a trademark move with Silva’s entrance, a slow push-in while Silva  walks towards the camera from a distance. For the most part this approach works,  the first act feels like one of Fleming’s short stories, and the belated  entrance of Silva pays off in some wonderfully discomforting dialogue scenes and  a huge shock. Even Silva as cyber-supervillain works, mostly due to Q’s rivalry  with Silva. But then along comes the third act… Mendes throws everything at  the screen; the full Bond guitar riff, Aston Martins, references to and  borrowings from Goldfinger, Apocalypse Now, and From Russia with Love. But while it’s fascinating in  exploring Bond’s past, and ends fittingly with some in-joke references, the  climactic action just lacks the forcefulness or epic scale of Casino Royale and even Quantum.

Skyfall is a good film, which runs  out of steam somewhat, but it does seem to prove that action directors handling  sharp scripts make for the best Bond films.

3.5/5

October 24, 2012

Stitches

Conor McMahon, writer/director of cult Irish zombie flick Dead Meat, teams up with stand-up Ross Noble for a goretastic horror-comedy about a revenant killer clown.
 
Noble plays Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle, a jaded clown working the children’s birthday circuit. A particularly tough crowd of 10 year olds sees a regular gig, thru a series of unfortunate events, end in Stitches’ accidental and very grisly death at the hands of the unruly children. Six years later the children have grown up, even more obnoxious than their younger selves; with the exception of the traumatised birthday boy Tommy (Tommy Knight) and his old crush Kate (Gemma Leah Deveraux). Tommy’s mother travels for work just as his birthday looms, and so his friend Vinny bullies Tommy into holding his first birthday party since Stitches died. But gathering the other guests from that fatal party (boisterous Richie, camp Bulger, bullying Paul, and bitchy Sarah) on the anniversary inevitably summons up the vengeful ghost of Stitches…
 
Stitches’ opening will produce some deep cultural confusion. Stitches and Tommy are both English, as is Stitches’ girlfriend and Tommy’s mother, so you assume the film is set in England. But no, a licence plate reveals that it’s set in Wicklow, but no one makes any reference to stray accents; before a later reference to a girl being easier to get into than community college adds another layer of baffling cultural colonisation. Noble is a supporting presence for a surprisingly lengthy time leaving Knight to carry the film alongside Deveraux’s caring heroine. Both are fine but structural conventions allow them to be overshadowed by wonderfully colourful supporting performances from Roisin Barron as the verbally abrasive and physically abusive mean girl Sarah, and Tommy Cullen as Kate’s narcissistic boyfriend Dan who has something of the young Matthew Goode about his swagger.
 
Noble, the former circus stilt-walker, would seem perfect casting as a diabolical undead clown, but while he delivers some good one-liners amidst the mayhem, too often you feel his improv comedy skills are being subordinated to a not particularly sharp script. McMahon and his co-writer (and fellow IADT trained editor) David O’Brien seem happy to just insert shlock moments into a structurally sound horror. Brains being scooped out, arms ripped off, intestines being pulled out, heads kicked off, and eyes being poked out; all occur in slow motion, usually in close up, and are lingered on in loving and farcically gory detail. But, bar a truly delirious piece of practical magic involving a pump and an inflating head, this parade of gross-out shlock never quite hits the mark. The intentions are good, there’s even an in-joke cameo from a Dead Meat star as an archetypal teacher, but horror-comedy’s a trickier proposition than comedy-horror.
 
Stitches is competent work that is quite amusing in places, but it doesn’t match up to a top-notch horror-comedy like Slither.
 
2/5

October 12, 2012

On the Road

Acclaimed director Walter Salles tackles Jack Kerouac’s classic 1957 novel only to demonstrate directors shied away from it for 55 years for a good reason…

On the Road is a fiercely autobiographical work as all the ‘characters’ are barely disguised real people. Our hero, aspiring novelist Sal Paradise aka Jack Kerouac (Sam Riley), lives in Queens, NYC. In conservative 1947 his best friend is flamboyantly gay aspiring poet Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge). Into their bohemian scene roars Dean Moriarty aka Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund), a literary borstal boy with a 16 year old wife Mary Lou (Kristen Stewart). But hanging out with bebop trumpeters like Terrence Howard’s cameoing saxophonist cannot satisfy Dean’s wanderlust and so he drags Sal and company across America on a series of road-trips. Sal works as a picker in California, Dean gets romantically entangled with the icy Camille (Kirsten Dunst) in San Francisco, and both men hang out with the genteel junky Bull Lee aka William Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen) in the Deep South. But what drives Dean onwards?

Hedlund is not the Dean you’d imagine from the novel, but he improves on his inert Tron: Legacy hero even if he occasionally channels Tyler Durden to an embarrassing degree. Control star Riley is equally unlikely casting; especially in affecting a curiously wheezy American accent. Mortensen impresses most as an unexpected voice of common sense who accuses Dean of ‘compulsive psychosis’ and ‘psychopathic irresponsibility’. Poor Sturridge, doing a good Ginsberg, exemplifies this film’s failure. Compared to David Cross’ Ginsberg in I’m Not There Sturridge’s version is unbearably annoying – because Kerouac’s dialogue shorn of Kerouac’s dazzling and comic prose makes ‘Carlo’ appear incredibly self-important and self-involved. The fact that the hackneyed ‘mad ones’ riff is spoken as voiceover when Dean and Carlo are literally monkeying around hammers home the problem that it’s impossible to like these characters, or believe they’re talented (not least as Dean seems to take 18 months to read 1/5th of Swann’s Way.)

Jose Rivera’s script dashes thru the novel’s events without obvious purpose, and Salles’ direction veritably trumpets minor appearances by major actors (Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss). This film is simply soaked in sex, drugs and freeform jazz, yet is desperately dull. It never actually feels like fun on the road, and you groan when you realise the Mexican road-trip is still to come. Salles’ visually recreates an impressively detailed post-war America, but prioritises swivelling camera shots observing the Hudson roaring past along the road to another set of encounters rather than ever lingering in the car observing; so that he never conveys the hypnotic beauty of driving that drags these characters back for more.

Salles so fails to capture the spirit of the book that watching Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho might better serve cineastes unwilling to just read Kerouac’s original.

2/5

Ruby Sparks

The directors of Little Miss Sunshine return with a comedy-drama cross between Pygmalion and Stranger than Fiction that fails both as comedy and as drama.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a former literary wunderkind who set the book world alight with an epic novel when he was 19, but has since produced only short stories and is in analysis trying to crack his writer’s block. Dr Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) forces him to write about a woman who likes Calvin’s dog Scottie, as an exercise. Calvin starts to write about Ruby (Zoe Kazan), a girl in a dream who likes Scottie but is also very combative verbally. Soon he has written half a novel about her, and then she physically appears in his house as the perfect girlfriend conjured up by his imagination… Calvin think he is losing is mind, a conclusion heartily endorsed by his obnoxious sports agent brother Harry (Chris Messina). But a startling encounter with a literary groupie (Alia Shawkat) proves Ruby’s real…

Ruby Sparks is terribly unfunny, especially when set beside 2006’s Stranger than Fiction. There are good lines at long intervals, but only an amusing sequence where Ruby becomes insanely clingy actually lingers in the memory. Despite the fantastical set-up this is a game played with the oldest deck of rom-com cards. The man knows something the woman doesn’t, he wrote her, he doesn’t tell her, they fall in love, she finds out, they break up; can he make a grand gesture to win her back? Who cares? Ruby never sparkles enough to convince as the ideal woman, and Calvin isn’t remotely a loveable everyman. Chris Messina’s role is an empty cipher and he can’t showboat as all the script gives him are tiresomely predictable crude sexual remarks. Gould is tragically underused while Steve Coogan barely registers as Calvin’s pompous rival.

Instead of gags we’re given endless psychobabble masquerading as insightful drama. An awkward visit to Calvin’s mother (Annette Benning) and step-father (Antonio Banderas) is excruciating, especially as its sole (contradictory) purpose is to allow Ruby shrink her creator as ‘controlling’. Unfortunately Ruby hasn’t noticed that Calvin’s mother has been completely reshaped by her new husband, while the analysis buzzwords spouted by Ruby are almost identical to the self-justifying nonsense proffered by Lila (Deborah Ann Woll), who callously left Calvin weeks after his father’s death. Ruby Sparks is this week’s second release starring a couple, one of whom wrote the script, but this lacks even Hit and Run’s good heart. This is a quite insulting attempt to examine the male psyche by a female screenwriter who thinks such scrutiny means accusing men of not appreciating women.

By the end you’ll wish Calvin would just type ‘A grand piano falls on Ruby, the rope attached to it leads to an anvil that falls on Calvin, Road Runner appears and goes meep-meep’.

1/5

Hit and Run

Punk’d provocateur Dax Shepard co-directs and also co-writes and stars in a hybrid of action and rom-com as a goodhearted ex-con who riskily drives girlfriend Kristen Bell to Los Angeles.

Annie (Bell) is a teacher in a terrible community college issued with an ultimatum by her boss (Kristen Chenoweth) – do a job interview in L.A. for the chance to create a course based on her unique approach to conflict resolution or lose her job. Annie decides to go, but it involves a parting of the ways with her boyfriend Charlie (Shepard), who is in witness protection after testifying against some L.A. bank-robbers and can’t go back there without endangering himself and Annie too. So of course he goes. Much to the chagrin of his case marshal (Tom Arnold), Annie’s controlling ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum), and, eventually and inevitably, the gang he testified against (Bradley Cooper, Ryan Hansen and Joy Bryant). But will Annie be able to forgive Charlie for the awful secret he has kept from her about his past life?

Some films possess a mysterious quality that makes you want to like them, and this is one of them. You are rooting for this film to work, and it so nearly takes flight that you end up feeling bad at its consistent failure to soar. Tom Arnold blusters for all he’s worth as a hopelessly inept federal marshal but while his slapstick scenes of vehicular mayhem have all the necessary elements they never catch full comedic fire. The cast is ultimately the best thing about this movie. Smallville fans will enjoy seeing Lex Luthor sporting hair but still acting like an entitled bully, while Veronica Mars fans will enjoy seeing Bell and her old 09er nemesis Hansen clash. Bell will never find as a good a role as Veronica but she carries this movie effectively with her real-life boyfriend Shepard.

The car-chases are the selling points of this movie but these are car-chases shot on a shoe-string budget with hand-held cameras, and while the three chases are good they’re not brilliant. Indeed nearly everything is good but not brilliant. Bradley Cooper has a standout scene with an irresponsible dog-owner that is memorable but quite questionable. Definitively not good are the endless complaining and explaining conversations between Annie and Charlie. These are meant to create a crossover hit by appealing to women, but they’re inferior to the very similar emotional confrontations that punctuate the gory carnage on Supernatural, and they make it increasingly difficult to care about annoying Annie. Indeed the funniest moment comes at the end of the film when her character is undercut with an absurdist cameo by Sean Hayes from Will & Grace.

It’s hard to dismiss a film so many talented actors volunteered to work for scale on but Shepard’s script has noble intentions yet just can’t achieve its own ambitions.

2/5

Kristen Bell, Book and Candle

Filed under: Talking Nonsense — Fergal Casey @ 2:25 pm
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INT.HOLLYWOOD OFFICE-DAY

CHRISTIAN BALE and KRISTEN BELL sit in the waiting room of their agent’s office. The celebrated Delaney, agent to a galaxy of stars, well, some, is in a meeting with fellow agent Montgomery Moncrieff Micawber-Mycroft, and his terrifying secretary Janine has banished his two clients from her office to the outermost reaches of the Delaney establishment; a room entirely devoid of potted plants. Bale and Bell sit on opposite sides of the room with a large candle on the desk in between them. Bale is idly flipping thru a screenplay. Bell is slowly reading a bound book.

BALE: (sighs, putting down screenplay, glances at Bell) What is that thing? A new Paul Thomas Anderson script?

BELL: (looks up) What? No. It’s a, it’s the book for a new musical on Broadway.

BALE: You can sing?

BELL: (puts down the book, offended) Yes I can sing!

BALE: I didn’t know.

BELL: Did you not watch Veronica Mars?

BALE: No!

BELL: What about solidarity between stable-mates?

BALE: Oh, come on. Did you watch Reign of Fire?

BELL: Yes!

BALE: Oh… My apologies.

BELL: I sang Blondie in a karaoke scene. (sings) “One way or another I’m gonna find you, I’m gonna gonna gonna gonna getcha, one way or another”.

BALE: Okay, you can sing. That’s a pretty good song to use on a detective show.

BELL: It really is, isn’t it? That’s what we thought when we decided to freaking use it, you Welsh moron.

BALE: Hey! I was about to be nice!

BELL: Oh yeah? How?

BALE: Maybe you might to take a look at this. (tosses his script to her)

BELL: (she flips thru the first few pages). Ugh! An Abba musical.

BALE: You don’t like Abba?

BELL: I love Abba. I hate that musical. It’s so badly written it’s not funny. I’ve been in Reefer Madness. I’ve done Sondheim. I want something that’s at that level.

BALE: Picky picky.

BELL: Well, not all of us can recover from choices like Reign of Fire

BALE: HEY! I apologised for that already!

JANINE enters from the door on the right.

JANINE: Sorry to keep you waiting, but Mr Delaney will be about another 10 minutes.

BALE: (groans) AWWWWW… Fine, whatever. Can I get a coffee?

JANINE: I’m afraid we’re not allowed to give you coffee anymore Mr Bale after the incident regarding the espresso…

BALE: THAT WAS A TOTALLY LEGITIMATE COMPLAINT ON MY PART!!!

(Janine stares at Bale for 30 seconds without saying a word, during which time he becomes slightly cowed, and then she lights the candle on the desk.)

BELL: What’s the candle for?

JANINE: It makes people calm.

BELL: I’ve never seen it there before.

JANINE: You’ve never had to wait with Mr Bale before.

BALE: I wanted a triple espresso and I got a double espresso. Anyone would freak!

BELL: (ignoring him) What’s the hold-up with Delaney?

JANINE: Mr Delany is in a meeting with Mr Micawber-Mycroft.

BELL: Who?

JANINE: When the time comes to know who he is, he will find you.

Janine walks back into her office. Bell stares after her, nonplussed.

BELL: Well that was fairly Yoda like… (looks over at Bale and sees multiple scripts flying up in the air) What are you doing?

BALE: (rooting around in his bag) I’m trying to find a decent screenplay.

BELL: Ha! Join the club.

BALE: I’m serious! That’s what I’m doing here. Delaney keeps sending me crap.

BELL: And again, join the club.

BALE: I mean look at this! (brandishes screenplay) It’s a raunchy comedy about some guy who breaks up with some girl and goes to Hawaii to forget her, but, wait for it, she’s gone there too, with her new boyfriend. Hilarity freaking ensues. What am I supposed to do with that?

BELL: Mug for laughs?

BALE: I’m not good at broad comedy. Or you know comedy comedy.

BELL: Comedy comedy?

BALE: I can do comedy when it’s relief in a dramatic setting, I can do comedy when it’s black and part of a role, but I can’t do comedy when that’s all there is. Underneath, I need to be more. In a comedy there’s nothing under the role.

BELL: Whatever. I’ll see your holiday comedy and raise you a pointless role as the love interest in some dumb Terminator reboot. Like I want to stand around beside John Connor and some other guy, pouting concernedly while stuff blows up…

BALE: Delaney sent you a Terminator movie?!

BELL: Have it if you like. (she tosses the script to him)

BALE: (flicks thru the first few pages) Ooh, nice! If I took John Connor I wouldn’t be the lead, strictly speaking, but I’d be the name if I could convince them to cast an unknown in the other part. That way it wouldn’t be my fault if it tanked, but I could claim I was the draw if it worked; and then BOOM – another franchise.

BELL: I thought you just wrapped on The Dark Knight, don’t you want something different?

BALE: I don’t want to do this all my life, no one would.

BELL: What, make franchise movies?

BALE:  Be Batman. I need a new franchise so I can make small films like Harsh Times.

BELL: I didn’t see that.

BALE: No one did. That’s why I need to make franchises. What else have you got?

BELL: Um, (rummages in her bag) I’ve got some truly boring love interest part with almost nothing to do except stand around and look concerned in a really long and painfully dull Michael Mann script about some 1930s bank-robber. I’ve got some absolutely whack-job script about some guy who pretends to be a priest during the Rape of Nanking and then starts to save girls from prostitution.

BALE: Doesn’t sound too whack-job…

BELL: The story’s not whack-job. But like, what the hell does Delaney want me to read it for? All the female parts are Chinese. I could maybe have played the lead Chinese prostitute in 1950 with awful make-up, but I wouldn’t want to do it even if I could somehow still get away with it now in 2007. It would be like you breaking out the boot polish to play Othello. And finally I have an actual good script. It’s a bit clichéd, about some underdog boxer who overcomes adversity, but the 4 main parts are all pretty juicy. The girlfriend is a good role but… it’s set in Boston and I can’t even do Mayor Quimby. What have you got?

BALE: (rummages in his bag) Playing second fiddle to some girl in Rome in a rom-com, this script is actually even worse than the Abba comedy. Oh, also, some raunchy comedy about a guy and a girl who might break up so they go Hawaii to reconnect, even worse than the other couples in Hawaii script I got. Also some bizarre movie about some chick who goes to a strip-club and thru a lot of backstabbing becomes the star stripper who sings. It’s weird. It’s like this campy PG-13 version of Showgirls.

BELL: There’s an oxymoron…

BALE: It’s truly terrible, but at least it stands out. There’s this other script which might as well just be 20 pages of set-up and then 80 blank pages with the words ‘Hilarity Ensues’ where the page numbers ought to be. Some girl finds that some girl she hated in high school is going to be her sister-in-law. I actually fell asleep reading it. And there was a truly diabolical script I didn’t get past 30 pages of where a woman chains her husband to a toilet just before his young squeeze arrives and then they get burgled. Chained to a toilet! Why in God’s name would I want to do that part?

BELL: Why is Delaney sending you so many godawful rom-coms?

BALE: I don’t know! That’s why I’m here. Maybe he thinks I need something different, light, but I need a franchise! And what’s with your scripts? Minor turns behind male leads?!

BELL: I mean is this how people think of Kristen Bell and Christian Bale?

BALE: (leans forward, stunned) Say that again.

BELL: (quizzically) Kristen Bell and Christian Bale.

BALE: Mumble it like Delaney does, when he’s trying to hide his cluelessness.

BELL: Kristen Bell and Christian Bale…

(The penny drops for both of them simultaneously. Delaney has been mixing up their scripts for quite a while because of their soundalike names.)

BALE: (screams in fury) DELANEY!

BELL: (howls in anguish) DELANEY!

Janine pokes her head around the door.

JANINE: Oh God, what’s he done now?

October 5, 2012

Sinister

The producers of Paranormal Activity eschew their look for a more classically shot horror that has odd echoes of recent art-house oddity Berberian Sound Studio.

In the name of research true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves into a house where a family was murdered. He neglects to tell his wife their new home is a crime scene… Law & Order fans will get a kick out of some minor roles as Ellison is brusquely welcomed by Fred Dalton Thompson (That’s Senator Thompson of Tennessee to you!) as the local Sheriff who wants him gone, and later he gets research help from an expert on the occult (Vincent D’Onofrio). He needs that help after stumbling over some old 8mm films in the attic, which turn out to be the home movies of a serial killer that include many other massacres besides the one Ellison’s researching, all just dripping occult symbols. Ellison gleefully believes this discovery will propel him back into the limelight. But then strange things start to literally go bump in the night…

Ethan (Training Day) Hawke as a man trying to re-scale the heights of a hit from the early 2000s seems like cruel casting that would do Veronica Mars proud. He’s very effective though as there’s an unexpectedly meaty emotional throughline with Juliet Rylance as his long suffering English wife Tracy; who’s worried about the malign effect his work has on their two children. There’s also great comedic relief from Deputy “So and So” (James Ransone); embarrassingly eager to assist Ellison’s research. Director/co-writer Scott Derrickson displays flair in building dread thru the effect the horrors of the 8mm films have on Ellison’s psyche. The idea of a serial killer who slaughters families before abducting one child, and who has been this doing since the late 1960s, is chilling, and Derrickson stages some wonderful scares as an increasingly paranoid Ellison chases shadows.

But even a truly terrifying sequence involving the night terrors of Ellison’s young son has not involved anything ghoulish. And then a spectacular scare moment loudly announces that this serial killer’s methods are supernatural; and he is now after Ellison… Sinister doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Woman in Black because Derrickson cheats a good deal. Ellison has a bizarre preference for working in the dark. He never switches on a damn light in the house at night, making it easier for the audience to fill the shadows with all kinds of scary monsters; which Derrickson takes advantage of for one heart-stopping supernatural jump scare. A brace of central ideas are also lifted from Doctor Who and American Gods. Gripes aside, this is tense stuff that patiently, inexorably builds towards a suspenseful, traumatic finale.

I don’t understand why Sinister is being released this early in October, because it is by way of being the perfect Hallowe’en scary movie.

4/5

Liberal Arts

Josh Radnor (aka Ted from How I Met Your Mother) writes, directs, and stars in a romantic comedy about a disappointed thirtysomething intoxicated anew by the college lifestyle.

Radnor plays Jesse, working in NYC as a college admissions officer; a deeply unfulfilling job. He jumps at the chance to escape back to his alma mater, a liberal arts college in Ohio, to celebrate the retirement of his mentor Hoberg (Richard Jenkins). However, other protégés of Hoberg arrive for the shindig, and their improv drama student daughter Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) makes an immediate impression on Jesse. Not least because her effervescence, thoughtfulness and wit are favourably contrasted with his ice maiden English lecturer Fairfield (Allison Janney). Jesse and Zibby begin to correspond as she shares her intellectual discoveries with him and he begins to wake up from his jobsworth stupor. Jesse returns to Ohio to see Zibby but should Jesse really be looking for a more age appropriate girlfriend, like cute bookseller and Carla Gugino lookalike Ana (Elizabeth Reaser)?

Liberal Arts at times feels like Radnor looked at Manhattan disapprovingly and decided to write a wiser version of the 17 year old Mariel Hemingway character and an ethical version of the 42 year old Woody Allen character. There is a deliriously funny silent scene where the tortured Jesse uses mathematics to convince himself that a relationship with Zibby would be okay. Allen is an obvious reference point; this being the second film in two years that Radnor has written, directed and starred in. This is a cottage industry to get behind though as this is far warmer and wittier than his higher profile HIMYM co-star Jason Segel’s magnum opus Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And that’s despite a fantastically cold supporting turn by Allison Janney; channelling CSI’s Lady Heather as an aloof sexually dominant sage who teaches Jesse some hard lessons.

Radnor fills his film with hilarious sequences. The letters between Jesse and Zibby recall 84 Charing Cross Road and are both charming and very funny; as when Jesse notices that opera does make passersby look prettier. There is a sensational lengthy fight between Jesse and Zibby over a trashy vampire novel that is obviously the Twilight series (Lunar Moon?!), and an unlikely actor makes a simply spectacular cameo as an enigmatic student feeding Jesse Zen wisdom. This is also a film of great heart. Jenkins’ heartfelt regrets at retiring are compassionately treated, and Radnor as well as being a likeable sparring partner for the sparkling Olsen volunteers himself as a mentor for a brilliant but depressed student (John Magaro); during which story thread there is a dismissal of what is surely Infinite Jest that would warm Bret Easton Ellis’ heart.

To Rome with Love confirmed Allen’s rediscovery of his comic talent, but with Liberal Arts Radnor could very well have announced himself as the heir apparent.

4/5

October 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Director Stephen Chbosky adapts his own acclaimed 1999 young adult novel for a movie that treats high-schoolers as seriously as Adventureland did college graduates.

Socially isolated teenager Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts high school after a summer of depression over his best friend’s suicide. His parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) are loving and acerbic, but as little help emotionally as his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev). Charlie remains haunted by the memory of his dead aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), the one member of the family who truly loved him. However, when he strikes up a friendship with flamboyant senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), and becomes instantly smitten with Patrick’s step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), he is absorbed into their tight-knit social circle which includes Scott Pilgrim stars Johnny Simmons as self-loathing jock Brad and Mae Whitman as would-be photographer Mary Elizabeth. But even as Charlie tears thru the novels given to him by teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), and blooms into a Rocky Horror performer under the tutelage of Sam, a traumatic end to the year awaits him and these beautiful people…

The range displayed by these young stars is startling. Lerman played the charismatic rebel in Meet Bill and Miller the troubled loner in We Need to Talk About Kevin, yet here Lerman is impressively subdued and Miller is an exuberant joy. Watson meanwhile is luminous, and I would always have regarded her as merely competent. The acting is impeccable even in the smaller roles. McDermott is wonderfully cutting, Whitman hilariously narcissistic and garrulous, and Walsh has an astonishing reaction shot. Cameoing Vampire Diaries heroine Nina Dobrev meanwhile just can’t seem to escape boyfriend drama (here with Ponytail Derek, despised by her entire family) and caring for a drug-addled younger brother. Chbosky also triumphs in making his novel utterly cinematic, from a Dexy’s Midnight Runners sound-tracked dance where Charlie truly joins Patrick and Sam’s clique, to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ blasting out on the radio as Patrick roars thru a tunnel while Sam stands up on their truck.

The central idea of the film, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” is played brilliantly as a piercing insight into the damaged relationships pursued by the central trio. Despite their cool mix-tapes, sardonic wit, and good hearts Patrick and Sam are made to feel like losers by the wider school and so accept less than they deserve. Meeting Charlie oddly may be a spur for them too. Chbosky delightfully never unequivocally locates this film in Pittsburgh until a Penguins reference in the penultimate scene, an ambiguity mirrored in our uncertainty about Charlie’s mental state and past. But unlike the frustrating vagueness concerning Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s damaged hero in The Lookout we know definitely that Charlie is fully functional, just highly medicated, and dealing with immense guilt. The patient reveal of his damaged psyche makes its eventual revelation all the more powerful as it explains many different thematic strands, including a brutal and chilling cafeteria fight scene after which Charlie blacks out.

Chbosky has made a film of great wit, charm, and emotional depth that stands comparison with Michael Chabon’s Pittsburgh novels. This is a film to see and love.

5/5

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