JJ Abrams’ Super 8 carries a well-played ‘cusp of adulthood’ feel throughout: stirrings that can neither be ignored nor quite reconciled plague these teen protagonists as a manifestly metaphorical giant crab-like alien foe snaffles various unfortunate local residents. These kids have to grow up quickly; though the zombie movie they’re clandestinely patching together after hours has them playing adults, many of whom are expendable zombies (geddit?). Playing adult is no fun in Super 8, unless it’s in the realm of such blood-spatteringly gleeful make-believe, and even then train wrecks and rampaging aliens tend to spoil such late night escapist film-making tomfoolery. The parents of these kids are not unsympathetic, but they’re manic, beleaguered and embattled at every moment, rattling exertion much preferable to slowing things down and realising they’re not particularly good parents. Abrams intermittently bleeds careful sincerity into his burbling absent-parent issue throughout, but such is the compelling and exceptionally well-crafted Spielbergland otherwise (the kid performances are uniformly perfect; awkward, funny, complexly inter-connected, believable) that you don’t have time to register or dwell upon shortcomings, which are, you might say, an inevitable by-product of all the good, frivolously engaging stuff. It’s a sweeping blur of well-marshalled chaos, impatiently on to the next set-piece, crane shot or soon-to-be curtailed dialogue exchange (mirrored by the tyro film crew’s scramble for footage). Enjoyable but ever-more cloying the nearer the self-congratulatory ending you get.
Jane Eyre is a highly accomplished, gloomy version of the Bronte classic, and dispenses with that final line, which would probably be inadmissible here anyway, adding, as it would, an at-odds tinge of spry positivity. This is a circumspect, careful version of the famous novel, perhaps over-deliberate and fusty at times, but with a brilliant sense of place and time, and some fine turns, Mia Wasikowski offering as good as any take on the titular heroine, Michael Fassbender an icily vigorous, lugubriously lovelorn Rochester. Jamie Bell wears mutton chops with aplomb, which is more than you could hope to expect, and Judi Dench disappears amidst the mise en scene, no mean feat for such an iconic figure. And at 140+ minutes, the film is no more than 5 minutes too long, though suffering a rather terse final movement post such pained, involving tranquility.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes isn’t the queasiest example of CGI out there, but possesses very little in the way of heart, and in what should be a significantly emotive affair (does heavy-CGI consistency bleed the emotional affect out of every film?), the blue screen is never far from your thoughts. James Franco seems a little too wry to buy into all this, but goes through the motions believably enough, until the whole thing becomes a bit of a calamity in the final stretch. And there’s less chemistry between Franco and the fragrantly dull Freida Pinto than there is between any of the fake chimps.
Attack The Block is far and away the worst thing in this round-up, a late-night CITV disaster. Clunky, rubbish camerawork, ridiculously uningratiating and laughable scally patois, woefully contrived set-pieces, terrible yoof performances and titter-heavy ‘serious’ moments. It’s an unmitigated, shameful travesty. Even the aliens, which have pretty decent glow-in-the-dark gnashers, are hilariously distracting, kind of orang-utan/dog amalgamations of shaggily innocuous mirth, bounding about like simian stormtrooper fodder. They’re the most likeable thing in it. Bruv.
In what is an almost psychotically brave gambit, Jodie Foster has here resurrected a long-touted script by Kyle Killen (that was a fixture on the ‘Black List’ – the set of scripts with buzz that are in unmade limbo) called ‘The Beaver’ (a one-time mooted Jim Carrey vehicle, there but for the grace of God etc) and put Mel Gibson¹ in it. Not having been at the helm for quite some time, perhaps she was bored, or fancied a bit of high-wire rehabilitation? It is, in many ways, the ultimate leftist contrarian counter-intuitive headscrambler.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson), in cod-cockney voiceover (explanation shortly), relates his spiral into loserdom: he’s seriously depressed, sleeps a lot, is in a bad way, has been ejected from the family home. The left-behind wife and kids don’t seem to be taking it too badly: eldest son Anton Yelchin seems rather pleased that such emotional toxicity is at least at a distance. Jodie Foster and youngest son are less pleased but life without Mel goes on.
Meanwhile Gibson, in the midst of meltdown, and on the way back to the hotel after obtaining more loser supplies (the old emblematic standby shorthand for ‘in trouble’: a load of beer) decides to dispose of various overtly-symbolic family detritus from his car (he hasn’t room for his beer stash) and happens upon the titular hand puppet, which he retrieves and throws in amongst the bottles. Back amidst the TV drone terminus of last-stop hotel hell, and post drunkenly oblivious sloppy suicide attempt #1, the puppet, by now a garrulous cockney fixture on Gibson’s right hand, is busy reproaching him with pretty funny, well-delivered antagonisms, and narrowly averts more realistic suicide attempt #2, beyond which Gibson is a reformed, possibly deranged man, turning over an eccentric new leaf with the help of The Beaver. His business, in decline, suddenly thrives at the guiding hand of his new ventriloquial chaperone; a broken home is tentatively mended; things are on the odd up. Bizarre sex scenes come and go. Anton Yelchin isn’t having any of this, mind, and a concurrent companion storyline, which has his stumbling relationship with Amy Lawrence as some kind of analogous parallel, seems to have an obvious conclusion, which comes to pass.
Gibson, upon the arrival of his and Foster’s wedding anniversary, is coaxed into putting The Beaver under wraps: ill-advised, as Gibson is by now over-reliant on his possessive prop, until a gruesome act rids him of the by now murderous, indignantly marginalised puppet and a post bloodbath happy resolution prevails.
The performances? All very good, none more so than Gibson, who looks about 70, ruined, atrophied, believable. It’s his best performance in some time, and he possesses the kind of last-gasp vim you might expect of someone returning to rehab for one final stab at ridding his demons.
The main problem with The Beaver (it has many) is not, as you might imagine, a question of inappropriate demands of the audience, it’s quite the opposite: it’s far too conventional. What might well have been an opportunity to really do something thought-provoking and interesting is squandered at the expense of a tilt towards the box-office and hampered by mundane direction. On the one hand, Foster is asking a hell of a lot here: Gibson as lovable, maddened, afflicted everyman hitting the skids before an inevitably over-wrought renaissance. On the other: it perhaps should’ve remained a Jim Carrey-type vehicle, as I wouldn’t’ve bothered watching it, and it would’ve been exactly what you imagine, as opposed to a falsely-intriguing circus of a movie, replete with marquee, albeit empty.
¹ Gibson, whose recent hits include ‘You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it’s your fucking fault!’, ‘I own Malibu…I am going to fuck you.’, ‘Fucking Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.’, ‘Shut the fuck up! You should just smile and blow me. Because I deserve it.’, ‘They take it up the ass. [laughs, stands up, bends over, points to anus] This is only for taking a shit.’, ‘I need a woman, not a fucking little girl with a fucking dysfunctional cunt!’, ‘I don’t need medication. You need a fucking bat to the side of the head, all right? How about that?’, ‘I mean leave cunt, bitch, gold-digger cunt whore…and that’s what you are.’, ‘I’ll put you in a fucking rose garden you cunt. You understand that? Because I’m capable of it!’ and ‘I am going to come and burn the fucking house down… but you will blow me first.’ is a fine actor and director, who I do like a lot: compelling in Mad Max, great in Hamlet, brilliantly manic in Lethal Weapon. That he’s troubled, to say the least, should not corrode the back-catalogue. And he must’ve hoped that The Beaver might’ve re-railed his career. Alas, and whilst it may still turn out to be the unlikely pebble that calls forth the avalanche with a cult ambulance-chaser DVD afterlife, The Beaver sank without trace (£63000 dollars taken in the US at the last count; it opened in just 22 cinemas) at the box office, predictably tanking, snubbed as homophobic misogynist anti-semite drunks tend to be.
I really didn’t like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and flung it across the room (well, gently tossed it onto a nearby chair, I recall) after 50 grim, flat, uninteresting pages. So expectations here were not stratospheric by any means. And yet, the film is a fairly interesting, admirable near-miss. The contrived, faintly dystopian leanings of the source novel are aptly chilly attributes, and the air-conditioned, tranquil hell that such a tale should suggest are well captured by Mark Romanek, in a series of poignantly empty, post-rain landscapes. The problem is that the story – which is about a group of people sired and brought-up as living hosts of replacement organs and body parts – affords little room for hope, or anything other than sombre devolution, and thus the performances run the gamut between glum and attenuated. This means that nothing, however potentially powerful, has the opportunity to be as impactful as it might, and the film is ultimately no more than a well made collection of intriguing performances. Carey Mulligan is always a sturdily disappointed ballast, with a face that suggests it has witnessed untold tribulations, a sad visage that you want to see perked up. She is always interesting, the slightest eye movement bearing a multitude of connotations, every gesture a hint at something bleakly fascinating. Whereas Keira Knightley leans on this centrality like a drunk on a lamppost, leering and coquetting and desperately wheeling through her armoury like an adolescent with a Swiss-army knife, futilely competing, never knowing when to play it straight or subdue the flamboyant easy hits. Andrew Garfield is much more impressive as an anger-riven node of nervous likeability, thoroughly believably struggling through every utterance, gently on the edge until a perfectly reasonable screaming fit plays out. Ultimately, the film is a successful, impressive adaptation of a book that should probably never have been filmed, and fails as a piece of drama, but is curiously watchable regardless.
The Adjustment Bureau is fairly terrible, despite a reasonably respectable prologue. Matt Damon is a senatorial candidate, busy getting crushed at the polls after a faintly-reprehensible revelation, when he meets Emily Blunt in the men’s toilet. They kiss, which takes the edge of his pummelling, and he makes a rousing equable sign-off speech. He has decided he’s not bothered about winning and losing, that’s not what really matters etc etc. But a sleekly dubious crew aren’t happy about this contrived turn of events, as they want him running for president, so they’re after keeping Damon well away from the comely Winslet-copyist, as he has a certain destiny they’re keen on him fulfilling. Of course, Damon prefers Blunt to the most powerful portfolio on Earth (despite her woefully off-putting dance moves) and this causes some bizarre and often laughable mayhem. The film thinks, at different points, that it’s a chase movie, a romantic comedy, a thriller, a spy movie, a kind of oddball musical, a character study, and so on, but it is so incredulously uneven, from scene to scene, that it’s virtually a disaster.
David Schwimmer’s (yes, that one: the guffawing Friends geek and director of the woeful Run, Fat Boy, Run) Trust is considerably better: a young girl is groomed (largely believably, with some serious misigivings) on the internet by an adolescent who turns out to be a 30-odd year old. They meet in a mall, which is toe-curling and affectively played, and he assaults her in a hotel room. Her parents (Clive Owen (never better than he is here) and Catherine Keener (excellent)) take in the fall-out, the thoughts of reprisals, the guilt, the clinical mortifications of the aftermath, and it’s an accomplished, careful take on potentially derisorily and trickily handled subject.
Barney’s Version, an adaptation of the dazzling Mordecai Richler ‘pseudo-autobiography’, has the brilliant Paul Giamatti embodying the titular writer, Alzheimer’s and booze-addled Barney Panofsky, who unreliably recounts various junctures in his frenetically eventful life, including his being tried and acquitted for the murder of his vanished best friend. It’s a little too swift a run-through (there’s a lot to pack in the running time; perhaps a HBO series might’ve been the way to go) to truly bite at any point, but the performances (plaudits in particular to Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver and a wonderfully dissolute Dustin Hoffman) are infectious and the film is ultimately irresistible.
Scream 4 is exactly what you expect. Say no more…