LIFE OF PI

Stars 5

Treat yourself to the voyage of a lifetime with this breathtaking high seas adventure.

It begins when Rafe Spall’s nameless Writer interviewing Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, who as an adult is played with knowing charm by Irrfan Khan, and by Suraj Sharma as a teen, who carries the bulk of the film on his young shoulders with desperate, windswept and sunburnt charm.

In flashback we discover Pi was a thoughtful innocent who was forced to become brave and resourceful when sailing from India to Canada. 

A storm cast him adrift in a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. He’s the star of the show, a magnificent and menacing bloodthirsty pirate with an all too human desire to survive.

The unlikely companions have to survive storms, sharks, hunger, insanity and each other in order to reach dry land.

Adapted from the best selling book by Yann Martel, this is a film of staggering beauty, great intelligence, and no little humour. Director Ang Lee credits the audience with intelligence, dismissing the need for a huge Hollywood reveal and opts instead to protect the poetic rhythms of the movie.

At times the lifeboat seems to be cruising through the heavens as Pi undergoes a spiritual journey, with wondrous waves of fabulous images crashing across the screen in a tumultuous cascade of colour and energy.

A cinematic experience of the highest order and a towering technical achievement, this fabulous family fantasy is suitable for all but the very young who may find Richard Parker a little too wet and wild.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE

Rating U Stars 1

Laughter fails to light the way in this gentle generational culture clash comedy, a pedestrian piece of parental prejudice which involves illicit cake eating, toilet emergencies and abortive playdates but no surprises and little of interest.

The film shuffles along saddling itself with a message of family tolerance so sickly sentimental it would shame a Disney TV movie from the 1970’s.

Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott are an over-protective couple who reluctantly attempt to leave their children in the care of grandparents, played by Billy Crystal and Bette Midler.

Eternal showbiz troupers that they are, the pair give everything in a desperate attempt to entertain but for all their prickly charm and practiced comic timing, they can’t raise a spark from the dated and toothless script.

The talented cast deserve a great deal better and so do the audience.

BREAKING DAWN PART 2

Stars 3

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return as vampires Bella and Edward for one last bite of the cherry in the final chapter of the Twilight saga which doesn’t hold back on the tooth and claw.

Until now the franchise has been an anaemic exercise that was all teeth and no trousers but this time the gothic horror runs red with passion, anger and blood.

Bella and Edward’s daughter has been wrongly accused of being an immortal child by the Volturi, the royal family of vampires, and so as a threat to them they have decided she must die.

To protect her child, the now rampant Bella must gather help from a motley crew of vampires and werewolves in order to face down the Volturi in a final confrontation.

Stewart is full of furious, motherly anger and rips into her role with gusto, putting Pattinson firmly in her shadow.

Taylor Lautner as Jacob the love-sick werewolf is more petulant than ever and still afraid to put his shirt on, despite the heavy snow on the ground.

Michael Sheen is a great actor and as Aro, the leader of the Volturi, he is a prowling, preening, power hungry vampire who has the best fun delivering the film’s lines.

The film is beautiful to look at, not just for the actors but the stunning Canadian landscape is majestic in its wild, snow-covered glory.

There is again lots of running through forests and jumping from treetops but when the film kicks off in the second half there is some excellent fight choreography and the final confrontation is terrifically and excitingly staged.

I haven’t read the books and I’ve no idea if this is a faithful adaptation or not but I do know this is a handsome and exciting finale to a consistent and successful franchise.

If you’re not a fan of the film series this probably won’t make you change your mind, but if you are then you won’t be disappointed.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Stars 2

Here’s a Hollywood movie that celebrates the endearing, warm, funny and romantic side of mental illness.

The Hangover star Bradley Cooper, plays Pat Solitano, a bipolar sufferer released into the bosom of his loving family, headed by the OCD afflicted Pat Snr, Robert De Niro.

While trying to woo back his straying wife, Pat meets Jennifer Lawrence’s beautiful but equally troubled Tiffany, and as the two bond over medication, law breaking and ball-room dancing, a complicated situation soon develops.

This emotionally dishonest disaster wants to be a sympathetic portrayal of the mentally ill while simultaneously using their wacky behaviour as a springboard for humour.

The humour is weak, the violence misplaced,  the romance cliched and the the Dirty Dancing Over the Cuckoo’s Nest finale is such a badly judged mash-up of low comedy and cringing sentimentality that I was generating my own anger issues.

END OF WATCH

Stars 3

The writer of the Oscar winning smash hit Training Day, returns with another gritty police thriller set in South Central LA, but with a Denzel Washington-shaped hole where the charisma should be.

Writer and director David Ayer, shot entirely on location in fidgety, semi-documentary, police-cam video style, creating a loud and tense gun and drug movie where the highest ambition police officers have is to survive their shift and have their timesheet signed off, End Of Watch.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Mike Zavala Michael Pena are patrol car partners who come across a safe house belonging to a Mexican cartel who immediately put a price on their heads for disrupting their lucrative drugs trade.

The cops aren’t the brightest guns on the street but they are mostly honest and unquestioningly brave. Patrolling is a series of verbal abuse, brutal fist fights and vicious gun battles, and even the music is aggressive.

Off duty, Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez provide strong acting support as their wives, with America Ferrera and Frank Grillo as their fellow officers.

Watching this film is like being trapped for two hours in a small steel cage with a pair of uniformed, squabbling, slurping, chattering caffeinated kids, before being released on a regular basis to be shot at by angry Uzi abusing gangsters.

Ayer doesn’t wholly commit to his handheld format which reduces its authenticity, and the last two scenes are unnecessary and lessen the films impact.

Despite this the two officers hold your sympathy and attention because although they’re not as interesting or entertaining as the film believes they are, even the most basic police work involves being screamed and shot at.

Their wives are the only lightness in their lives and in the movie and are a sweet and sassy counterpoint to the constant aggravation the men experience on duty.

This is a portrait of a city in a state of siege, and the only advice the script can offer is to wear comfortable shoes and a bulletproof vest.

ARGO

Stars 4

Ben Affleck’s impressive directing career goes from strength to strength in this funny, thrilling and barely believably heist based on a true story.

In 1979 the US embassy in Iran has been overrun and the staff taken hostage. Six have managed to escape and are hiding in the Canadian embassy and the CIA have a very short time to extricate them without the Iranians finding out and executing them.

Much to his bosses mistrust, Ben Affleck’s top CIA agent decides that the only way to safely liberate the escapees is to create a fake science fiction movie called ‘Argo’ and pretend they are part of his film crew.

Affleck the actor is in excellent form as the taciturn agent, hiding his Hollywood looks behind a dodgy ‘70’s beard and hair combo, so when he drives around in a camper van he resembles the character, Shaggy, from TV’s Scooby Do cartoons.

A great cast features a strong turn from Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador, with  excellent comic support from Alan Arkin and John Goodman Hollywood producers roped in to bring authenticity to Affleck’s scheme.

The film moves smoothly between the mostly comic US scenes and the Iranian scenes of deadly tension. There are a lot good jokes at Hollywood’s expense which also serve to highlight the seriousness of the mission.

Real TV footage from the era is integrated into the movie and helps to create the atmosphere of murderous disorder and paranoia of a country under martial law, and the film is careful to highlight how there were Iranians who risked their aiding the US civilians.

Produced by George Clooney, this confident, well judged and gripping movie downplays American triumphalism in favour of focusing on squeezing every particle of entertainment and tension from the human drama.

GAMBIT (2012)

Stars 1

An all-star cast gamble with a poor Coen brothers script and come off second best in this remake of Michael Caine’s swinging sixties caper.

Colin Firth plays a much abused gopher for Alan Rickman’s ludicrously rich businessman, and so invents a scheme to relieve his boss of ‘zillions’, and employs Cameron Diaz’s cowgirl, to help.

There are double crosses and twists but hampered by the dreadful script, the normally reliable cast struggle to generate enough zip. Diaz grins manically, Rickman sneers and Firth bumbles about to no good effect.

Crucially none of the characters are sympathetic or deliciously nasty enough to care what happens to them. And with everyone’s acting antennae is jammed at ‘wacky’, every joke and comic situation is drained of humour.

I suspect the Coen’s didn’t make this movie themselves because they knew their material was substandard, ensuring this disappointing waste of everyone’s time and talent. Especially mine.