Directed by Michael Mann. Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Coutillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham.
THE PLOT: Yet another tale of cops and robbers, Mann returns to the cat and mouse of Heat here, and two A-listers on either side of the law – Christian Bale’s crusading cop, Melvin Purvis, is hot on the tail of Johnny Depp’s charismatic bank robber. As the latter’s notoriety and fame grows, so too does the former’s steely determination to trap his folk hero prey (this was the Great Depression, and, like now, banks weren’t popular), the chase being watched closely by J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who was busy trying to gain approval and backing for the formation of what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Of course, Dillinger wasn’t the only glamourous gangster in town back during ‘the golden age of bank robbery’ (as the opening credits put it), with the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie & Clyde and a host of others also running rings around the not-so-long arm of the law. Dillinger was special though, a dashing superstar bank robber who flaunted his many victories over would-be captors. Mann and his scriptwriters (including our own Ronan Bennett) take a few poetic liberties here and there – such as suggesting an undying love between Dillinger and Marion Cotillard’s coatcheck girl, gradually turning this into a touching tragic love story…
THE VERDICT: I’d really love to know why it is that Michael Mann has such a hard-on about HD cameras these days.
Perhaps he was sold on this fleet-footed, light-headed digital alternative to the big, cumbersome film cameras of old that had helped make the likes of Heat (1995) and The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) so majestically beautiful by the commercial and artistic success of Collateral. That sterling 2004 Mann movie that managed to make Tom Cruise appear both menacing and masterful, whilst digital video perfectly suited the long day’s journey into night.
Mann wasn’t so lucky next time, when he used HD again for the disastrous Miami Vice (2006), a movie that had enough going wrong for it without adding the sort of cinematography you’d normally expect to find on DVD making-of featurettes. It’s a nagging problem that won’t quite go away either in Public Enemies, Mann’s otherwise mighty fine account of the life and crimes of 1930s gangster pin-up John Dillinger marred by the creamy, slow-witted sheen of digital video. That said, gradually, through Mann’s trademark high-voltage shoot-outs, Depp’s mercifully muted performance, and all the intriguing twists and turns of a life lived on the edge, Public Enemies takes a firm grip. Now, if only it had been shot in 70mm, it might just qualify as a timeless classic. RATING: ****
Directed by Chris Nahon. Starring Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, JJ Feild, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham.
THE PLOT: Adapted from the 2001 cult anime, this is the tale of a 400-year-old samurai who just happens to look like a 16-year old Japanese schoolgirl. Nice. It’s Saya’s job to rid the world of nasty demons and vampires, and to do so, it would seem, as spectacularly as possible whilst spilling as much blood as possible. And that’s just what she does. Our boy, Liam Cunningham, pops by. Just in case that floats your boat.
THE VERDICT: Those swines, Pathe, didn’t see fit to screen this to Irish critics last week, which is perhaps understandable, given that the sublime and the ridiculous don’t exactly live in perfect harmony here. Like just about every stylish action director out there, French director Chris Nahon made his name in commercials. And just like so many of his soulless comrades, he doesn’t always get the human factor in his work quite right. But, when you’re dealing with a hot young Asian chick making chop suey out of vampires, it’s hard to complain. Still, this could have been so much more than a pale Blade imitation. RATING: **
Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Jason Patric, Alec Baldwin.
THE PLOT: With her sister suffering from an acute form of leukemia, little Anna Fitzgerald (Breslin) was conceived by means of in vitro fertilization so she could be a genetic match. Which means there’s been a strong bond between the two sisters right from the start – whether Anna likes it or not. And just lately, she’s beginning to think that she doesn’t like it. And so she sues her parents. For medical emancipation. As you do.
THE VERDICT: This is the sort of movie that Oprah would recommend. And so, naturally, you must avoid at all costs. The often loveable Cameron Diaz has been making brave attempts to grow as an actress in recent years, but this is not one of her smarter choices. Adapted from the Jodi Picoult novel, it wears its tearjerker credentials on its sleeve, and almost dares you to be cynical about this picture-perfect family going through such a heartbreaking ordeal. He who dares wins though, so, you know, fuck ’em. RATING: *
Directed by Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier. Starring the voices of Ray Ramano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Bill Hader.
THE PLOT: A trio of storylines to follow here – Manny struggles with impending fatherhood (alongside Queen Latifah’s mum-to-be, Ellie); Diego (Denis Leary) begins to question his agility, and eyesight; and Sid begins to wonder if he’s actually loveable, a question answered when he inadvertently becomes a surrogate mum to three baby dinosaurs. Whose buddies all live in a magical land under the ice. A magical land that looks about as visually stunning as The Land Before Time.
THE VERDICT: To borrow the catchprase of Ray Ramano’s lumbering mammoth, Manny – “Not good”.
Not quite as bad as Shrek 3, there’s nonetheless a definite sense of a franchise having shot its load creatively when the crash, bang, wallop approach of Ice Age 3 starts getting just that little bit too loud, that little bit too busy, that little bit too desperate. And that’s just in the first five minutes.
To be fair, the first five minutes are always given over to Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel who’s pretty much Wile E. Coyote’s Mini-Me. And the acorn that Scrat can never quite get his paws on for very long is pretty much Road Runner’s Mini-Me. Here, he’s given some competition in the shape of a wily, winking female. His schtick is getting a little old though, and he doesn’t provide quite enough comic relief to the cumbersome main storylines here. And is it just me, or does the animation in Ice Age always look like it’s still due on more round of computer rendering? Purely for the young ‘uns. RATING: **
Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Starring Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Ann Whitney, Ellary Porterfield.
THE PLOT: Algenis Perez Soto plays the eponymous would-be baseball giant, Miguel Santos, whom we first meet as he attends a baseball academy in his native Dominican Republic, what little money he earns there going towards the building of a house for his mum. When a talent scout brings him to America for a shot in the minor leagues, Miguel ends up playing for Idaho, but it isn’t long before he feels lonely, confused and rejected.
THE VERDICT: Following on from their fine, Ryan Gosling-led teacher-on-heroin drama Half Nelson, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck delve into a very different world with Sugar, examining the struggles of Dominican baseball players trying to make it America.
Which sounds pretty darn boring, right, but, as anyone who’s seen Half Nelson will know, Boden and Fleck have a talent for the unsaid, the unseen, maybe even the unspeakable, and you don’t have to be a baseball fan to understand a tale of an outsider trying to get inside. Not your typical Hollywood sports film, Sugar is closer to Hoop Dreams than Remember The Titans. Which, of course, is a good thing. RATING: ***
Directed by Att Aselton. Starring Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Edward Asner, Jane Alexander.
THE PLOT: Dano plays Brian Weathersby, one of life’s drifters who’s just about woken from his daily slumber by the arrival of Deschanel’s sleeping beauty, Happy, whom he finds taking a quick nap before she buys a bed for her wealthy, permanently-horizontal, spine-damaged father (Goodman). Naturally, the two outsiders are soon busy comparing oddball relatives, Brian taking Happy to see his eccentric, magic mushroom-chomping pops in… Ah, you can make the rest up yourself.
THE VERDICT: There’s a quirkiness to Gigantic that doesn’t take all that long in becoming incredibly irritating. Mainly because you get the growing feeling all the way through this screamingly typical American indie black comedy that everyone involved is incredibly aware of the fact that they’re delivering a Really Quirky Film.
Some, like the queen of Really Quirky Films, Zooey Deschanel, and larger-than-life Coens regular John Goodman seem to throw the towel in pretty much from the start here, sleepwalking through their performances, whilst leading man Paul Dano – who broke through as the stoically silent, sullen son in Little Miss Sunshine, and suffered an earful of Method madness from Daniel Day Lewis in Let There Be Blood – has to play a single mattress salesman whose sole ambition in life, since the age of eight, is to adopt a Chinese baby. Which pretty much says it all.
Having spent three years in college since the double-whammy of Sunshine and Blood, Dano is one of the producers here, so, you know, he’s got no excuse. RATING: **
Directed by Fernando Eimbcke. Starring Diego Catano, Hector Herrera, Daniela Valentine, Juan Carols Lara II.
When his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere – or thereabouts – Juan (Diego Catano) is forced to abandoned said vehicle and go in search of a new distributor clip. And this is when he stumbles upon a wrinkled old mechanic Don (Hector Herrara). And a young mum Lucia (Daniela Valentine). And kung fu nut David (Juan Carlos Lara). And when I say stumble, Juan approaches his search like a tortoise with no particular place to go.
A film that’s almost too subtle for its own good, Lake Tahoe is a lazy, hazy Mexican outing where nothing much happens. Ever. Naturally, it’s been a hit on the festival circuit. Not that a little wasted time and space can’t make for some intriguing, Pinteresque – nay, Jarmuschesque – cinema, especially when the DP, Alexis Zabe, has an eye for curious detail. It’s just that, well, if I want to experience 80 minutes of sun, simpletons and scratching, I’ll go lie down in me front garden. RATING: **
OOH, LA LA!
The 50th anniversary of the French New Wave is celebrated at the IFI throughout the month of July with a series of screenings of those pivotal films that helped influence a generation. And beyond. Today, at 2.20pm, you can catch Paris Belongs To Us, followed by Vivre sa vie at 5pm, whilst tomorrow, it’s Last Year In Marienbad at 2.30pm and The Girls at 5.10pm. The following weekend, it’s Jules et Jim at 2.40pm on the Saturday, Le Mepris at 1pm and 7pm on the Sunday. On July 25th, it’s Bande a part at 3pm. Parfait!