This weeks movie reviews by Paul Byrne, including Burke & Hare, The Kids Are Alright, Saw 3D & The Hunter.
BURKE AND HARE (UK/USA/15A/94mins)
Directed by John Landis. Starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tim Curry, Isla Fisher, Christopher Lee, Tom Wilkinson, Jenny Agutter.
THE PLOT: It’s Edinburgh, it’s the early 19th century, and Irish immigrants William Burke (Pegg) and William Hare (Serkis) have hit on a novel way of making a schilling or two – providing freshly-dead corpses to private anatomy lecturer Doctor Robert Knox (Wilkinson). Which, given the scarcity of cadavers round these parts, means Burke and Hare are in the money. They’re also in cahoots with the devil, it would seem, happily murdering unsuspecting drunkards so they can claim their prize…
THE VERDICT: Getting John Landis out of retirement is always a good thing, of course. This is the man, after all, who gave us Animal House, The Blues Brothers and – the obvious reference point here, and the reason Michael Jackson enlisted him for his Thriller video – An American Werewolf In London. Having Simon Pegg in there ups the pop culture too, the non-ginger funnyman attracting some of Britain’s finest funny folk along for cameos (the line-up including Stephen Merchant, Bill Bailey, his old Spaced mucker, Jessica Hynes, and, eh, Michael Winner). Shame the movie’s about as hilarious as Plunkett & Macleane then.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (USA/16/105mins)
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson.
THE PLOT: About to leave for college, 18-year old Joni (Wasikowska) is curious about the sperm donor who fathered both she and her younger brother, Laser (Hutcherson), and decide to get in touch without telling ma (Bening) and ma (Moore). Their biological pop, organic farmer Paul (Ruffalo), quickly forms a bond with his two offspring, and with one of their mothers, sharing a love for landscaping, and an enemy of the other, who instantly becomes jealous of the new bonds that are threatening their family unit.
THE VERDICT: A Sundance hit (but, of course), The Kids Are All Right has been getting rave reviews in high places, such as Sight & Sound, but there’s something undeniably smug about Cholodenko’s thoroughly modern family drama. Maybe it’s Bening – she’s got that Sharon-Stone-with-a-haircut smell about her; trying desperately hard to come across as though she isn’t trying. Moore, Ruffalo and co are all pretty darn wonderful though.
THE HUNTER (Iran/Germany/IFI/90mins)
Directed by Rafi Pitts. Starring Rafi Pitts, Mitra Jajjar, Ali Nicksaulat, Hassan Ghalenoi, Manoochehr Rahimi, Ismail Amini, Saba Yaghoobi).
THE PLOT: Tehran, leading up to the 2009 presidential elections, and factory security guard Ali (Pitts) is refused a change from nightshift, having argued that he wanted see his wife (Hajjar) and young daughter (Yaghoobi) more. His recent prison stint is cited as the reason. Feeling already disconnected and discontent in a town that seemingly never sleeps but constantly screams with traffic, the killing of his wife in a shoot-out between police and rebels – and the later discovery that his daughter had perished too – pushes Ali over the edge. Using his hunting rifle to assassinate two random police officers, Ali is later captured on the run in the wilds, but he soon finds himself lost in the woods with two bickering arresting officers.
THE VERDICT: Having secured his shooting permit in the optimism that preceded Iran’s 2009 presidential election, filmmaker Rafi Pitts knows it’s a permit he wouldn’t have secured after incumbent Ahmadinejad’s contested victory. This is a film that plays like a silent scream, its largely mute anti-hero hardly ever saying a word, even when he’s mad as hell, and he can’t take it anymore. It makes for a strangely muted film too, full of dark corners, sharp edges, lego high-rises, and deafening white noise. A car chase alongside misty mountain roads is wonderful, and if the ensuing prisoner-and-escort through the woods never quite reaches the Buscemi-directed Sopranos episode Pine Barrens, it still has its moments.
SAW 3D (USA/18/89mins)
Directed by Kevin Gruetert. Starring Tobin Bell, Sean Patrick Flannery, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Dean Armstrong, Gina Holden.
THE PLOT: With Jigsaw still casting a long shadow over his victim’s lives – well, those who managed to surive, that is – the hardy but still jittery band of survivors turn to one of their own, Bobby Dragen (Flannery), who just happens to be a self-help guru. And like all self-help gurus – I’m talking to you, Deepak – he’s riddled with dark, twisted secrets. All he needs are some wide-eyed victims.
THE VERDICT: The splattered brains behind this little moneyspinner got the fright of their lives when Saw IV opened poorly at the US box-office back in 2007. How they must wish 3D was available to them back then – something they’ve decided to exploit to its fullest here, no doubt. No press screening, which, of course, didn’t do the so-so Paranormal Activity 2 any great harm over its record-straining opening weekend in the US last week. Ditto biffo box-office, no doubt, given that it’s Halloween, and the fact that the filmmakers claim this is The Final Chapter (allegedly, there were eight installments originally planned). Whether the movie’s actually any good or not is an entirely other matter, of course.