Review: The Big Short

static1.squarespace

DIR: Adam McKay • WRI: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay • PRO: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Kevin J. Messick, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Clayton Hartley • MUS: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

Adam McKay, co-founder of Upright Citizens’ Brigade, SNL writer and director of Anchorman is now an Oscar nominee for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. His career in the world of comedy led to this recognition for a film that straddles between comedy, drama and at times documentary. The Big Short is an exploration of the American housing bubble building up to the 2008 Financial Crisis, brimming with the righteous anger of McKay’s liberal politics, as glimpsed even in his more light-hearted screenplays like The Other Guys or The Campaign. This is a turning point for his career now that his big heart and sense of humour meet the intellect necessary to have clarity in explaining the drier details of financial regulation to a general audience.

These details are not explained well at first. The narrator acknowledges that most people would have trouble keeping track and that the financial world’s trickery depends on impenetrable terminology to either bore people or deter them from challenging so-called authority on such matters. Techniques of documentary filmmaking such as stock footage and explanatory text are used to outline crucial details as is Ryan Gosling’s narration. Eventually, the filmmakers attempt an even more daring tactic in breaking the fourth wall with vignettes that address the audience directly. Celebrity cameos break down financial instruments through simplistic analogies. Characters stop scenes to tell the audience about historical inaccuracies in how events are being portrayed.

Ryan Gosling’s character not only narrates but addresses the camera. His character is a deceptive antagonist so giving him the role of audience guide is an innovation. He is luckily one of the few actors charming enough to pull off talking to camera and his taunting responses to the “energy” and “judgement” of the audience carries the same weight of an actor on-stage in the theatre.

These moments of breaking the fourth wall just about work. It’s a fun device that forms the essence of this film as a playful but unflinching statement on the Financial Crisis. This statement alone explains its success in Oscar nominations which also include Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Christian Bale. Bale plays Michael Burry, a real-life hedge-fund manager who identified discrepancies in the American mortgage market in 2005. The “big short” of the title refers to the strategy he and the other main characters employ, to bet against the supposedly-unassailable housing market and make huge earnings once the property bubble bursts. Seeing them trying to convince their investors of the impending crash as they get closer and closer to being proven right, provides the dramatic tension of this film.

Bale comes across as a stereotype of autistic people bordering on Rain Man territory. Socially awkward, mathematically genius, eccentric, abrasive, sees something everyone else doesn’t. We’ve seen this kind of character before and it is far from the standout performance of this film. That recognition should go to Steve Carrell whose portrayal of another investment expert Mark Baum carries weight, vulnerability and great comic timing from his introduction onwards. When one struggles to follow the dialogue, his reactions will tell you what you need to know. Carrell disappears into the character, continuing his recent blossoming as a dramatic actor.

Aside from these two characters and Gosling’s unapologetic banker, the other story we follow features producer Brad Pitt starring as mentor to a start-up seeking to pull off the big short. Pitt doesn’t get much screen-time and for much of it he is silent in the background but he has the reliable screen presence to give his character weight as a mentor figure with the biggest social conscience of any character in the film.

It is somewhat muddled to jump between several unconnected protagonists especially when the ethics of these characters aren’t all that clear. Are they really doing enough to raise awareness that would avoid an economic crisis? If they’re literally betting on the collapse of the financial world, how are they “the good guys” if they stand to profit from it? How exactly were they “sticking it to The Man”? Admittedly, these are questions the characters openly struggle with but they don’t seem to arrive at any definitive conclusions. The Big Short also has a shortcoming that many films on the modern financial crisis have; it doesn’t articulate the voices of people worst-affected by the crisis and if they refer to these people at all, it is in simplistic terms.

On one level, it does seem to side with them by highlighting how much of the property bubble was fuelled by charlatans deliberately misleading poor people and immigrants. Ultimately, it defends poor people and immigrants, pointing the finger at corruption in the financial sector and the politicians who defend it (while having the gall to blame poor people and immigrants for the financial crisis). It even goes as far as suggesting the financial sector failed to predict the 2008 meltdown not because of negligence but deliberate fraud.

Having maintained a mostly light-hearted, adventurous tone throughout the film, the ending strikes a bleak note, reflecting on the lack of accountability since the crash. So little has changed in fact, that the epilogue notes many of the same policies that led to the crash are thriving once again. While this serves as a sobering wake-up call, it does not have the tone of a call-to-arms; more of a horror-movie ending where the bad guys win. The jarring nature of this ending contrasted with the semi-comedic tone of the film is deliberate. It simulates the experience of blissful ignorance as we march towards catastrophe oblivious to the dread.

This is a mostly enjoyable film with a sucker punch of a stark ending. It is also, given there’s already turbulence on the financial markets this year, a timely warning about the dangers of groupthink and systemic fraud. It condemns fraud as both unethical and impractical, since fraud is always discovered sooner or later. Yet its persistence in human culture is truly terrifying.

Jonathan Victory

15A
130 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Big Short is released 22nd January 2016

The Big Short – Official Website

 

 

 

 

Share

Foxcatcher

 

Foxcatcher

DIR: Bennett Miller • WRI: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman • PRO: Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill • DES: Jess Gonchor • MUS: Rob Simonsen • CAST: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

There is a scene toward the beginning of Foxcatcher, the sports drama about wrestling star Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his relationship with troubled millionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carrell), that neatly encapsulates the depth of the film.

Mark grapples with his brother Dave, whom he is eclipsed and overshadowed by in the wrestling world. They playfully twist and turn, circling around and clambering at one another. On one level, it is a friendly spar between two close brothers and competitors who respect one another’s skill.

But in each spirited stretch there is a kind of simmering tension and a sense of unease. The careful observer sees the frustration in every lock and the jealously in each hold. Eventually it boils over and Mark delivers a headbutt that causes Dave’s nose to gush blood. Dave shrugs it off, but the illusion of friendly sibling competition is over.

Foxcatcher trades blows under the friendly veneer of a sports drama, but once you watch its movements more carefully you pick out its real passions and concerns: masculinity, identity, legacy and one of the most insightful looks into post-war American politics you’re likely to see in a film about greased-up beefcakes grappling at one another sensually.

Foxcatcher is based on a shocking true story. It concerns Olympic gold medalist in wrestling Mark Schultz who is promised fame and glory by millionaire John Du Pont if Schultz will join and champion Du Pont’s private wrestling team, based at his home on Foxcatcher farm, which he hopes will become the base for the sport of wrestling in the United States. Their relationship ends in violence, brought on by du Pont’s simmering schizophrenia.

As we meet Mark, he is a young man whose bright determination is forever dimmed by the shadow of his brother’s greater success. He is mistaken for his brother as he plods through a motivational speech to a group of bored looking children and his frustration is evident later, his annoyance painted in vibrant streaks of blood across his brother’s face.

In many ways Du Pont faces a similar dilemma. He is the heir to the du Pont millions, mountains of cash built with munitions and artillery. He deifies his forefathers, while still evidently feeling frustrated by the comfortable, lavish existence their work has given to him. He disdains the snobbishness and notions of class that come with it. This conflict is epitomised by Du Pont’s mother, an “old money” type who regards only the elegant equestrian sports as befitting the pedigree of her great family, regarding her son’s enthusiasm for wrestling as a sort of brutish, filthy, animal occupation.

And so, after a phone call, Mark journeys to meet Mr Du Pont who seems to have everything Mark has ever looked for. As the pampered rich boy talks of regaining America’s glory and masculine, pioneer toughness, Schultz eats it right up. Du Pont will employ him to make America a “shining city on the hill” again, and perhaps in the process some of that shining light might thrust him from his brother’s long shadow.

Foxcatcher is, in so many ways, a restrained film. Given the true story’s violent conclusion, the cinematic adaptation could have been a vicious and lurid thing, depicting Du Pont as a man overflowing with entertaining insanity, a vision of mental illness like a clown at a circus.

But the way the film handles it is so much more compelling. Its cinematography is tight and controlled. Its performances are, for the most part, quiet and deliberate and all the more menacing for those qualities. Du Pont’s troubled psyche, as he strolls into his gym with a pistol and requests that his athletes refer to him as “Golden Eagle”, is not a grand, flashy fireworks display but a slow, corrosive burn. Steve Carrell, an actor who I ordinarily have little time for, is truly excellent as the nasal, slight yet sinister Du Pont.

The film is really an opportunity for its actors to flash their talent. Tatum proves once more he is far more than just something for the ladies of the audience to stare at, with a performance that perfectly captures all the arrogance and anger that testosterone pumping through your blood tends to inspire and especially in a field as machismo-dominated as professional wrestling. If Du Pont and Schultz represent unbridled American Machismo, then Ruffalo’s Dave turns the spotlight on its Latin American counterpart: Caballerismo. He is tough and yet at the same time warm-hearted and responsible, powerful without needing to exercise that power to harm others. Ultimately the film is a collision of these two visions of masculinity, a restrained compassion endorsed by a gentle giant and a violent glory expounded on by a weak, anemic rich kid.

The film’s music seems to emphasise the conflict in du Pont’s psyche between his refined upbringing and his vision of traditional strength. The score alternates between delicate stringed instruments and the rich, pounding heartbeats of drums that seem to signal war.

In much the same way that Rocky VI was the Cold War writ large in a boxing ring, Foxcatcher paints a much grimmer portrait of American domestic politics of the age, daubing its red, white and blue shades on the wrestling mat. So many of du Pont’s inspiring soundbites about “National Glory” and “Honour” and “Strength” could be ripped word for word from the speeches of Ronald Regan and other American Neoconservatives of his day, who wanted to see a new dawn of a tough, brave and essentially macho America. This grim vision of the ’80s is only completed by a scene where du Pont instructs Schultz in the right way to praise the millionaire as the two snort cocaine on their way to a formal dinner.

Foxcatcher is about wrestling with the past, about wrestling with our legacies and where we come from, about wrestling with who we used to be or who people perceive us as, and about wrestling with an old political and cultural world we think we can throw away. Foxcatcher is a film about manning up and stepping out of the shadows. But it’s also about what happens when the only part of yourself you can reach out of those shadows is a fist.

 

David O’Donoghue

15A (See IFCO for details)
134 minutes.
Foxcatcher
is released 9th January 2015.

Foxcatcher  – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

images

 

DIR: Adam McKay  WRI: Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  PRO: Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell  DOP: Oliver Wood  ED: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White  DES: Clayton Hartley  Cast: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, James Marsden, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig

 

 

Following its release back in 2004, Anchorman: The Legendary of Ron Burgundy became an unexpected comedy smash, grossing just under $91 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of $26 million. It brought the creative team of director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (who had previously worked together on TV’s Saturday Night Live) a platform to develop the projects that were closest to their hearts, and also opened up several doors for co-star Steve Carell, who was best known at that time for his work alongside Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on The Daily Show, as well as a small-role in the Jim Carrey-starring Bruce Almighty.
With producer Judd Apatow also about to kick-start his directorial career, it is clear to see that Anchorman represented a pivotal point in the lives of much of the cast and crew. Indeed, many of them have enjoyed terrific commercial success since the original was released, but the idea of a follow-up to the ’70s-set satire has always been an enticing one for the main players.

 

The prospects of a second outing for Ron, Brick, Brian and Champ seemed bleak when Paramount Pictures decided against making a sequel in 2011, but a deal was finally brokered last year to make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues a reality. The story picks up in the ’80s, where Ron and now-wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are co-anchors at GNN, and now have a six-year-old son named Walter. However, Ron’s life is turned upside down when legendary newsreader Mack Harken (a growling Harrison Ford) decides to make Corningstone the station’s new weekend anchor, and relieve Burgundy of his position.

 

Although Ron’s career eventually plummets, he is given a second chance when he is approached about a new 24-hour news channel that is being established in Manhattan. Along with his trusted team of Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, he embarks on the Big Apple, where they shake the very foundations of broadcast news.

 

Nine years is certainly not the biggest gap between films in a series (the recent sequels in the Indiana Jones and Tron franchises took a lifetime to come to fruition), but it is nevertheless a long time since Ferrell & Co. brought their off-the-wall characters to the silver screen. While there was little pre-release hype for the original, the publicity for Anchorman 2 has been cranked up significantly, to the point that everyone who has even a passing interest in the film industry will be aware of its existence.

 

With all this in mind, it would have been easy for the various participants to rest on their laurels, but the good news for the many fans of the originals is that it maintains the spirit of the first outing, and registers a high laughter rate throughout.

 

The five principle returning stars (Ferrell, Rudd, Carell, Koechner and Applegate) clearly have too much affection for their characters to simply go through the motions, and they are all given their moments to shine. There are also some welcome additions to the cast in the form of Dylan Baker, James Marsden (as sharp-suited rival anchor Jack Lime) and Meagan Good as Ron’s new boss/love interest.

 

Witnessing the parameters of Ron’s romantic life suddenly shifting (Greg Kinnear also comes into the equation as a new partner for Applegate) provides much comic inspiration for the film, as does a dark third-act plot development for our eponymous hero.

 

Though lovers of the original will undoubtedly garner immense enjoyment from this second-parter, comparisons will inevitably be made with its predecessor. Only time will tell if the sequel will become as quotable as The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, but there is no doubt that its successor is lacking that certain element of surprise.

 

Also, at 119 minutes, it does over-stretch itself, and there are certain segments in the drama that could have been completely exorcised from the final cut. Aside from Brick (who finds his true soul mate in Kristen Wiig’s oddball secretary Channi), Ron’s fellow anchors are not given a great deal to work with, and when the celebrity cameos eventually arrive (in a heightened version of the first film’s Battle of the Anchors), they are thrown at the audience at a most extraordinary pace).

 

However, there are certain aspects to the film that are an improvement on the 2004 offering, namely the more coherent narrative structure, which indicates a desire on the part of Ferrell and McKay to properly develop the trajectory of their numerous creations.

 

Should the box-office receipts reveal healthy returns, then we can expect that a third film will follow in the not-too-distant future. On the basis of this film, there is no reason why the projected target audience wouldn’t be interested in another helping, because although the likes of Ferrell, Carell and Rudd have enjoyed great success away from Anchorman, it is clear that they are appreciative of what these characters have done for their careers.

Daire Walsh

15A (See IFCO for details)

118  mins

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is released on 20th December 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – Official Website

Share

On The Reel On The Red Carpet at Anchorman 2 Premiere

Anchorman - Paul 2

On The Reel‘s Lynn Larkin managed to catch up with the cast of Anchorman 2 at the Irish Premiere in the Savoy Cinema on O’Connell street.

Anchorman 2 left San Diego and came to Dublin for the film’s Irish premiere at the Savoy cinema. Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell and director Adam McKay all entered the glass case of emotion on O’Connell Street to meet and greet their Irish fans.

During their chat Paul Rudd explains to Lynn why Fantana will continue to be as naughty as ever and Steve Carell talks about Brick’s new love interest, Kristen Wigg, and what it was like working with her.

David Koechner (Champ) licks the microphone and explains why it’s not just the women in the movie that are strong characters but women globally. And director Adam McKay explains how difficult it was to keep a straight face during the shoot.

Finally, Lynn gives Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy) a special little gift and in return Will serenades Lynn with Ron’s moving love song to a shark named Doby.

 

 

Anchorman 2 opens in cinemas on Wednesday, 18th December

Share

Cinema Review: The Way Way Back

070313_The_Way_Way_Back_600

DIR: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash • WRI: Simon Barrett • PRO: Tom Rice, Kevin J. Walsh  • DOP: John Bailey • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel•  DES: Mark Ricker • CAST:  Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb

We meet 14 year old teenager Duncan (Liam James) en route to what he’s sure is going to be the worst summer holiday of his life. His mum Pam (Toni Collette) has been dating Trent (Steve Carell) for a while now, and that means a trip to his holiday cabin in a tourist-filled Cape Cod seaside town – whether Duncan likes it or not.

Steve’s bitchy teen daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) won’t even give him the time of day, and as soon as they arrive the “fun” begins, with neighbour Betty (Allison Janney) margarita in hand and already three sheets to the wind. Then Trent’s boating buddy Skip (Rob Corddry) and his flirtatious wife Joan (Amanda Peet) turn up, and the adults are ready to party – never mind what the kids are doing.

Duncan, his shoulders getting even more hunched by the minute, barely notices Betty’s seemingly-normal daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Trent’s put-downs and rules make him feel even less a part of the “family” Trent insists they’re going to be. And how come his mum is smoking pot with Trent and his friends? That’s not like her at all.

Salvation seems to come at the Water Wizz water park, where slobby owner Owen (Sam Rockwell) can’t believe this shy kid falls for all his witty bullshit patter, and offers him a job and a sarcastic but friendly face. As the days pass Duncan starts to lose his shyness among the high jinks with his fellow employees, though back at his summer “home” the tension grows, and he finds out that Trent has a summer secret.

He and Susanna start to talk a little more – they’re both kids of divorced parents, and both think this summer sucks – and while there might be some tears, it’s not going to end up quite as bad as they think.

We’re in the perpetual awkwardness of a teenage coming-of-age story here, and writer/directors Faxon and Rash (who won an Oscar for The Descendants and play small roles as water Wizz staff) make it seem timeless. When Owen gives Duncan the tour of the water park he says the owner wanted it to stay in 1983, and though we glimpse an iphone or two, other references make this story seem as if it’s taking place at any time from the 1950s to today.

James – a perpetual scowl on his unhappy face – epitomizes an unhappy teen, and the fine ensemble cast of actors (Rockwell and Janney especially) makes the best use of the excellent writing, which does so much by, for once, saying so little.

None of the expected, obvious moments come, yet we still get strong emotion and comedy, though more important than that it doesn’t offer us any easy answers about families, relationships or friends – just like it is when you’re a teenager, and an adult too.

This is that rarest of things these days – an original script with charm and real affection, but also an edge; the awkward silences between the adults at dinner says volumes without a word – and even the fab Water Wizz is a real place; look it up online!

Overall, this is a film that’s worth making the effort to see. It’s touted as akin to Little Miss Sunshine and Juno – it’s got fewer big laughs than that – but nonetheless it’s quite possible this will be floating around come Oscar time…

James Bartlett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

103 mins
The Way, Way Back is released on 28th August 2013

The Way, Way Back – Official Website

 

Share

Cinema Review: Despicable Me 2

Despicable-Me-2

 

DIR: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud WRI: Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul  PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri •  ED: Gregory Perler   DES: Yarrow Cheney • CAST: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove

 

What is going on with Al Pacino? Apparently doing a dance to sell Dunkin’ Donuts in Jack & Jill isn’t beneath him, but he’s above a little ethnic stereotyping in a children’s cartoon? Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here…

The original Despicable Me was the first feature from Illumination Entertainment, and taking in more than $500 million dollars worldwide in 2010 threw down a gauntlet to the likes of Pixar and especially DreamWorks, whose similarly themed Megamind, also out in 2010, took in little more than half that sum. The surprise success of Despicable Me was only surprising to those who didn’t see it. While the animation was nothing spectacular, the film’s extraordinary wit and heart made it a favourite for kids young and old.

Despicable Me 2 follows on in the fashion of its predecessor, as hapless supervillain Gru continues to balance his hi-tech exploits with raising three adorable but troublesome girls. Now retired from evil, Gru and his army of yellow Tic Tac Minions dedicate themselves to raising the children. But when a mysterious supervillain steals a dangerous mutagen, Gru is taken on by the Anti-Villain League to weed out the culprit. It’s the old hire a supervillain to catch a supervillain trick.

The story, what there is of one, is terribly light, with Gru and AVL agent Lucy Wilde having to pose as pastry chefs at a local mall to work out which shop owner is behind the plot. It is played like a whodunit, except we are only ever given two candidates to choose from: Mexican restaurant owner Eduardo and Asian wigmaker Floyd Eagle-san. Elsewhere oldest daughter Margo discovers boys, youngest daughter Agnes tries to encourage a romance between Gru and Lucy and middle child Edith gets utterly sidelined. When the story slackens, the Minions are wheeled out for more of their delightful gibberish-filled antics. The word “gelato” has never brought so many smiles.

There was something so “modern family” about the first film, with a (camp? gay?) single dad raising three girls and discovering he could manage, that really made it stand out. This time around it’s all about finding Gru a girlfriend, and thus finding the girls a mother. It’s an unfortunate step towards a heteronormative family unit that kids’ movies just don’t need right now. Gru is better off a single dad! It also doesn’t help that for much of the film Lucy Wilde is excruciatingly annoying – voiced by Kristen Wiig, she plays it like her role in Bridesmaids but without any of the tragicomic charm.

It also doesn’t help that the racial stereotyping is even worse this time around. Steve Carell gets away with playing Gru as a mad Slav by filling the role with enough soul to excuse it. But having Ken Jeong voice yet another flamboyant Asian man while Steve Coogan plays a British toff with a silly name is all too easy. The character of Eduardo, all flamenco dancing and body hair, was originally to be voiced by Al Pacino, who left the project among some whispered controversy – it’s not hard to see why, Pacino has never been very convincing with his Latino accents.

Despite these problems and the various abandoned subplots (Margo’s love life goes nowhere), there is a good bit to like here, and plenty of proper laughs. The Minions get most of them with their ridiculous singing, inappropriate costumes and general over-eagerness at performing tasks, but Gru and Agnes don’t disappoint.  A fun reference to Alien may be a little obvious, but a later allusion to the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is deliciously obscure for a family movie.

Fans of the original will be disappointed if they expect film two to be of the same standard, but they should be able to enjoy it as just an extra adventure for characters they loved. In the meantime, we can all look forward to next year’s Minions spin-off movie, because let’s face it, they’re all we really want to see.

 

David Neary

97 mins
G (see IFCO website for details)
Despicable Me 2 is released on 28th June 2013

Despicable Me 2 – Official Website

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duE9Ac1JG50

Share

Cinema Review: Hope Springs

hope-springs

DIR: Sean Anders • WRI: Vanessa Taylor • PRO: Todd Black, Guymon Casady, • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • ED: Matt Maddox, Steven Weisberg • DES: Stuart Wurtzel • CAST: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a couple who have been married for 31 years. Kay wants hers to be ‘a real marriage’ and decides to enlist the help of counsellor Dr Bernie Field (Steve Carell).Though sceptical, Arnold goes along with it.

Writer Vanessa Taylor, whose works on TV’s Game of Thrones, employs a formulaic structure. The first and third act unfolds in the couple’s hometown, the middle act taking place in Maine. The first establishes Kay’s unhappiness and her desire for change. Complications ensue when she decides to see Dr Field in Maine for his intensive one-week course. The change of setting signals the middle act. After talking, revelations, making decisions and taking action, the third act brings us home to its conclusion.  The routines established early in the film are repeated, but, now that things have changed, Kay’s frying pan with bacon and eggs takes on new significance.

Three-act structure with parallel shifts in setting, a limited timescale, clearly defined character’s goals, repeated imagery: basic elements of scriptwriting 101 are evident here. Where the writing succeeds is in the frank discussion of relationships and sex that surprises its respectable middle-class characters. Where the film succeeds overall is in its performances.

Jones and Streep are excellent. Jones brings a grumpy earthiness to Arnold, an accountant by profession and constantly concerned with prices.  He displays skill in saying nothing, refusing to talk. He makes silence work with gestures, a forced smile, a rapping of his knuckles on the table. Streep brings warmth and vulnerability to Kay. The pair works well together, playing characters that have lived together for 30 years but have grown apart.

Carell’s understated performance is noteworthy. He plays a facilitator, asking questions and provoking reactions from Jones and Streep. His restrained performance complements the leads’ theatrics.

Director David Frankel previously worked with Streep on The Devil Wears Prada. This comedy-drama is much less acerbic, and one wonders how Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), originally slated to direct, might have handled it.

Frankel’s film features pop songs soaring in emotional scenes, allowing them to swell up particularly when the characters are alone. The effect is overly sentimental, giving the film a saccharine tone.Their absence would benefit the players’ performances and its deft dialogue, giving certain scenes a bleakness that might underline Kay’s unhappiness and uncertainty and Arnold’s reluctance.

But this is Hope Springs, co-produced by MGM, so Hollywood convention prevails.

John Moran

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
99 mins

Hope Springs is released on 14th September 2012

Hope Springs– Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

and yet the dog doth not laugh

Dir/Wri: Lorene Scafaria. PRO: Steve Golan, Joy Gorman, Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal  DOP: Tim Orr. ED: Zene Baker. DES: Chris L. Spellman. Cast: Keira Knightley, Steve Carell

Apocalyptic or armageddon scenarios have oft been given the cinematic treatment, usually featuring thrilling heroics, last-ditch attempts at survival, and large-scale destruction of famous American landmarks. How your everyday Joe reacts to imminent death and destruction is rarely shown, or maybe only displayed through the traffic tailbacks that result from mindlessly attempting to flee the un-flee-able. There is a token tail-back scene in Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but there is little by way of heroics or destruction. The film takes a look at the individual human cost of trauma and disaster, through two unlikely characters thrown together in a crisis.

An asteroid is on a collision course with earth, all attempts at diverting it having failed. Insurance salesman Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell), battling with regret and disillusionment, reconciles himself to dying alone until he is thrown unsuspectingly into the drama of his young neighbour, Penny (Keira Knightley). With only days left to live, the two embark on a road-trip to find Dodge’s long lost love and, in turn, redemption for a life half-lived. However, there is more in store for them in this short time than either of them realise.

There are common elements between this and Scafaria’s previous screenwriting credit, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Both feature two strangers thrown together who embark upon a journey, music is a central theme, and both have exhaustingly long titles. What is notable is that, while one shows two people trying to get to their favourite band’s gig, and the other is a quest for love before the end of days, both are similar in their depiction of the consequences of random human interactions.

As regards the cast, it could be said that Knightley overplays and Carell underplays. Penny’s kooky, amped-up Britishness drifts from endearing to grating. Carell capably etches Dodge’s emotional vacancy and disillusionment, but this perhaps makes it a struggle to fully engage with his character. This kind of disillusioned white male figure is becoming quite a common trope of American cinema and literature, one which might be getting a bit tired. The kind of polarity in acting and character seen in this film renders the relationship that springs up between them a little difficult to buy.

In spite of this, the film is overall quite an enjoyable piece. The extent to which the narrative tone drifts from cynicism and despair to happiness and fulfillment is quite deftly done. It does, however, toe the line between bittersweet and overly sentimental. The idea of self-sacrificing love that could have been its central ethos is turned around for audience fulfilment. At the same time though, the various emotional and psychological processes that facing death incurs are drawn on to good effect, allowing for an engaging piece. Perhaps with a greater depth to the acting this would have been rendered more effectively.

Cathy Butler

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
101 mins
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is released on 13th July 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Official Website

 

Share