We review this week’s cinema releases, including Wreck-It Ralph and Warm Bodies
Wreck-It Ralph (USA/G/107mins)
Directed by: Rich Moore. Starring: John C.Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Alan Tudyk, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer
THE PLOT: Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a video game bad guy. After 30 years in the same arcade game, he is upset at being shunned and thought of as a bad guy; that’s only his job. After a party is thrown in honour of Fix-It Felix – the game’s good guy – and he is not invited, Ralph leaves his game and goes on a voyage of self-discovery, wrecking and fixing things along the way.
THE VERDICT: As the voice of Ralph, John C. Reilly merges despair and hopefulness in his performance to make Ralph feel well rounded, and his motivations relatable. Sarah Silverman’s trademark semi-annoying voice works well for her character, Venellope, and she quickly becomes one of the sweetest characters in the film. The relationship between Ralph and Venellope is definitely that of the odd couple, but it is endearing and warm.
Jack McBrayer is the voice of do-gooder Felix, which makes sense, Jane Lynch steps in as the military leader of the game Hero’s Duty (which also makes sense), Alan Tudyk channels the Mad Hatter as the Candy King and Mindy Kaling turns up as the wonderfully named Taffyta Muttonfudge. Each gives a wonderful voice performance that adds warmth to this CGI world.
Disney have definitely taken a leaf from early Pixar’s book with the attention to detail in this film. The background of the film is almost as interesting as the main story, and the puns are clever and rather cute. As well as this, it is not essential to have a knowledge of gaming before going to see the film, those who have a working knowledge and can differentiate between Pac Man and Q*Bert will do fine as the main action takes place in fictional games, albeit those inspired by actual games.
The story of Wreck-it Ralph is typical Disney – believe in yourself etc etc – but this is what makes the film work so well. As Ralph discovers that he is perfect as he is, the audience finds themselves rooting for this ‘bad guy’. The use of video games within this story adds a layer of quirkiness and nostalgia, as well as feeling a little like an animated, less scary version of Tron… With candy cars instead of lightcycles.
Director Rich Moore created some of the best, funniest and most heart-warming episodes of Futurama, and he has done the same with Wreck-It Ralph. The familiar story line is given new energy through careful direction and the script by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. The best jokes are visual and the almost throw away one liners will keep the audience giggling throughout the film.
In all, Wreck-It Ralph is a familiar story given a quirky, warm and incredibly entertaining twist. Reilly and Silverman shine and, since the film only explores a handful of games, the stage is set for many many sequels. An idea that is incredibly appealing.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston, Toni Colette, Michael Wincott, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith.
THE PLOT: With one insensitive journalist at the red carpet for his latest film, North By Northwest, asking if, at 60, perhaps he should quit whilst he’s still ahead, it’s a worrying time for Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins). The studios aren’t convinced either when he brings them his latest project – an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a novel inspired by the true-life serial killer Ed Gein. Hitchcock is convinced though, telling his wife, and longtime collaborator, Alma (Mirren) that he’s keen to get back to those early filmmaking days when they were willing to take risks. The fact that Hitchcock has to mortgage his house to self-finance Psycho puts some added pressure on his “little film”, and as he continues his trademark mind games with his cast (led by Johansson’s Janet Leigh), Alma helping flirtatious writer Whitfield Cook (Huston) with his latest novel only fuels Hitchcock’s anxiety…
THE VERDICT: Given the cold shoulder by all the awards heavyweights, it would seem the idea of Sir Anthony Hopkins playing Sir Alfred Hitchcock, surrounded by another Oscar icon and a supporting cast of noted character actors and certifiable hotties, was all just a little too much. And inevitable. It’s more than a pleasant surprise to discover, therefore, that Sacha Gervasi’s move into fiction – or faction, to be more precise – after the much-loved doc Anvil: The Story Of Anvil is actually a rollicking good watch.
Of course, with such a rich story to tell, it would be quite an achievement here to make a dull film. Gervasi may not deliver any jolts or revelations worthy of the great man himself, but the layers of Hitchcock’s life as he feared both his career’s demise (expressing worries that Psycho would be another Vertigo) and the end of his longtime marriage to Alma offer up plenty of drama and intrigue. The fact that Alma was as much a part of Hitchcock’s life at work as she was at home means Gervasi and his writers ultimately hang all the juicy behind-the-scenes details on a love story. It’s no Oscar winner, of course, but Hitchcock is never less than entertaining
Review by Paul Byrne
I GIVE IT A YEAR (UK/16/97mins)
Directed by Dan Mazer. Starring Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Simon Baker, Olivia Colman, Jason Flemyng, Minnie Driver, Jane Asher.
THE PLOT: After a whirlwind montage, Josh (Spall) and Nat (Byrne) get married, ignoring the little giveaway signs that they may not be the perfect match. Giveaway signs such as Josh’s best friend, Danny (Merchant), nearly derails the wedding with his crude and inappropriate speech. Or that catty friend Naomi (the catty Driver) mutters the film’s title during the ceremony. And sure enough, nine months later, Josh and Nat are finding life together a tad irritating, Nat being the first to feel she may have made a terrible mistake – especially when she meets the suave Guy (Baker), a guy much more suited to her tastes and temperament. For Danny, it’s old flame Chloe (Farris) who has begun feeling like his great escape from his great mistake…
THE VERDICT: There was a time when England’s Working Title Films ruled the roost when it came to romantic comedies, thanks to the likes of Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Love, Actually, but that mantle has been passed on to the Apatow posse. These days, after the first rush of gross-out, audiences like their romantic comedies to be both sweet and crudely frank, and Dan Mazer (who co-wrote and co-produced much of Sacha Baron Cohen’s output) would seem a perfect first-time director for such a warts-and-all approach to the genre. Unfortunately, the feelbad premise here is never quite balanced out by the naughty slapstick on offer. Long before the inevitable station platform showdown, the plot has tied itself in so many knots, you really don’t care who ends up with who.
Review by Paul Byrne
Directed by Pablo Larraín. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro
THE PLOT: In 1988 Chile held a referendum as to whether Pinochet could extend his rule for a further eight years. Rene, a young advertising executive is drafted in to support the No campaign, a campaign that, if successful, would ensure that 16 and a half years of military rule in Chile would come to an end. Both sides of the debate are given 15 minutes on national TV to campaign, and it is not long before the debate gets dirty.
No is made in such a way that it looks like a TV show from the 1980s – the lights flare, and the entire production just looks low quality, like an overly lit soap opera. Pinochet looms over proceedings like a spectre of oppression; we only see him on screen in stock images and footage, instead, this film focuses on the struggle faced by those opposing him.
THE VERDICT: Gael Garcia Bernal plays Rene, an advertising executive recently returned to Chile from exile. His family members have suffered and disappeared during his absence, and this forms the basis for his reluctance to get involved with politics. It is not long before he caves and becomes one of the main creative forces behind the No campaign. Garcia Bernal plays Rene as quiet and cautious, the weight of responsibility bears down on him, as he knows the consequences of failure. Garcia Bernal first came to international attention through his portrayal of a young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries, but Rene is far emoved from the young Guevara. He is reluctant to get involved with politics, is not filled with youthful optimism, in fact the opposite; Rene – a man with a young son and a former partner who has been detained – he has seen the ugly side of conflict and this is evident in his every move.
The debate divides Chile, and as the No campaign rely on light and fun methods to convey their message, the Yes campaign mock their broadcasts, trash their arguments and intimidate those involved. Rene and his boss at the advertising firm are on opposite sides of the campaign, and through their intimate and personal discussions – and those between Rene and the mother of his son – the audience learns how deep feelings on this issue run. The film depicts a seemingly small event in history, but one that changed the course of Chilean history. The threat of Pinochet’s retaliation looms large; we constantly see footage from ugly protests against the dictator and there is no doubt that this fate would befall Rene and his friends if they should fail.
The choice to make this campaign into a feature length film is an interesting one. As mentioned, it is a fairly small event – the campaign for a referendum – yet this has a bigger impact on Chile than any of the violent protests that have gone before. The film is framed through the No campaign and their struggle to unite the old and the young of the country, so this is hardly an unbiased view. The Yes campaign is portrayed as stubborn and cruel, and there is no doubt in the audience’s minds who should win this debate.
Director Pablo Larraín has created a film that deals with politics but is not overly political. No focuses on the small story of the ‘outsider’ who is drawn into the debate, but it is through this that the audience gets a sense of the bigger picture. The divide between the people in the film represents the divide between the people of Chile and in this way, the micro represents the macro.
In all, No is an interesting look at the turning point of Chilean politics and history; perhaps the most fascinating fact is that a dictator was deposed with a surprising lack of violence. No is a non-political film about politics and a reluctant participant in the debate that would eventually unseat Pinochet. Gael Garcia Bernal gives a studied and quiet performance that belies the reservations that come with fighting oppression. No is a small story with big heart and repercussions that is funny, warm and human.
Review by Brogen Hayes
A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN (UK/IFI excl/85mins)
Directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett. Starring the voices of Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Philip Bulcock, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, Stephen Fry, Cameron Diaz.
THE PLOT: Based on the late Graham Chapman’s fake 1980 memoir of the same name, A Liar’s Autobiography charts the comedian’s life and career through a series of animated sequences (dead Python sketches, so to speak), with Chapman’s own readings complimented by four of the other five comedy troupe members covering many of the other voice roles.
From an early pram-riding memory of seeing body parts strewn around the street of Leicester during the Blitz, through quirky Cambridge interviews (being a good rugby player swinging the deal), early struggles with his homosexuality, and on to the blurry wibbly-wobbly world of fame, and knocking back four pints of gin a day…
THE VERDICT: As with much of Python’s output, the key here is irreverence. Which means the truth is often between the punchlines, whilst the puns and the painful admissions here brought to life by some often stunning and occasionally crude animation. The decision to employ various different animation houses to produce different segments means A Liar’s Autobiography is never boring to look at it. But is there an audience out there – a cinema audience, especially – that needs to go through the Monty Python story once again, albeit from one particular angle?
For those who do need, it’s somewhat telling that there’s no Eric Idle here. As for the rest of the, eh, Fab Six, Terry Jones, as usual, makes for a fine dotty old mum, whilst Palin does handlebar-moustachioed 1950s dad pretty darn well. The rest of the cast – including Cameron Diaz as the voice of Sigmund Freud – all deliver their lines with the kind of melodramatic gusto Chapman would have wanted. The film opens with the voice of Chapman, asking an audience for 30 seconds of abuse. What follows after that is 84-and-a-half minutes of self-parody and, at times, self-pity – all dressed up as humour – with Chapman proving himself a highly elusive subject.
Review by Paul Byrne
ANTIVIRAL (Canada/USA/Light House/108mins)
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Starring Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Nicolas Campbell, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue.
THE PLOT: It’s the future, and celebrity is still the new religion – so much so, a clinic in Toronto can offer clients a strain of a live virus taken from one of their contracted stars. Sneaking viruses out of the clinic, employee Syd (Landry Jones) is decoding the copy protection before selling them on to black marketer Arvid (Pingue). When a co-worker is fired for the same trick, Syd is given a new task – extracting blood from ailing celebrity Hannah Geist (Gadon). Collapsing after he injects himself with Geist’s blood, Syd awakes to discover that the ailing celebrity is no more. Or is she…?
THE VERDICT: Unsurprisingly, coming from the son of the man responsible for Videodrome and Scanners, Antiviral is a dark utopian drama that holds this generation’s favourite drug, fame, up to the light. Like Pops, young Brandon directs in a somewhat mannered style, which, coupled with the low budget, lo-fi approach of his feature debut, makes for a fittingly sleazy if sometimes fuzzy offering. There’s an icky thump to Antiviral which is in perfect sync with its storyline, even if you’re not always sure if it’s there entirely by design. It’s also a far more satisfying film that last year’s Cosmopolis. Which should put a little grit into Christmas dinner at the Cronenbergs.
Review by Paul Byrne
WARM BODIES (USA/12A/98mins)
Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich
THE PLOT: The zombie apocalypse has devastated the world, and the humans left are hiding in walled cities, venturing out from time to time to gather supplies. R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie who falls in love with a human girl after eating her boyfriend’s brain.
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies is an odd mix. The film tries to combine Romeo and Juliet with the world’s sudden adoration of the zombie myth, while trying to be the antithesis to the nom nom run away sort of zombie movies, and do for zombies what Anne Rice did for vampires. Before seeing this movie, throwing out any idea you had about zombies would be a good idea. Yes, every writer and filmmaker tries to put their own mark on a genre, but Marion and director Jonathan Levine have created zombies with humanity, and zombie purists are bound to get up on their high horses about this one.
THE VERDICT: As R, Nicholas Hoult commands the screen. The story is told mainly through his eyes and his inner monologue/voiceover, and he makes a pretty good zombie. His attempts to speak and the monosyllabic voice he uses contrast nicely with the loquacious voiceover, but it is not long before the question arises; why is he different? Hoult manages the role well, with what he is given, and certainly proves he is able to carry a film as a leading man.
Teresa Palmer plays Julie, the human girl brought into R’s undead world. Again, she does fine with what she is given and her fear nicely gives way to curiosity. Rob Corddry takes over wingman duties and comic relief and manages them both well. But we knew he could do that anyway. John Malkovich steps in as Julie’s militant father, determined to protect the remaining humans and he adds some of the tension to the screen. He is not quite a villain, more a blinded human, and who can blame him? Malkovich could play this role with his hands tied behind his back and, like most of the character, is not given enough to work with.
The fault for this lies with the adaptation from the book. The audience could accept that R’s love for Julie makes his undead heart beat again and bring him back into the land of the living, but we are never given a reason why. There are hints at the idea that, by eating Julie’s boyfriends brain – it’s ok, he’s a zombie, that’s what they do – he has been given a part of the dead mans soul and a glimpse into Julie’s life, but this is never properly fleshed out, instead, the film focuses on the quirky; zombies living in an airport, zombie kids, the idea that somehow zombies are living the lives that their vessels did in life. The audience is repeatedly bashed over the head with the allegory of zombies as humans not connecting with one another and oh, have you spotted the Romeo and Juliet story yet? Of course you have. The film is too preoccupied with being clever, and allows the characters and their motivations to fall by the wayside. This works to begin with, but the audience soon finds themselves hungering for something a little more substantial.
Director Jonathan Levine has created a world that works well on the screen but like the screenplay that he wrote with author Isaac Marion, it is so self involved that the story is allowed to slip. Each actor is well directed, but they are not given enough to work with.
In all, Warm Bodies is a quirky little film that thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it actually is. Questions arise that are never answered, which leaves the film dragging its heels, and the central love story fails to inject much life into the film. Warm Bodies is rather like its title; warm, but never much more than that.
Review by Brogen Hayes