Feb 8, 2012

Mini Reviews: Catching Up

Intruders [15]
Dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
It's a terrible shame that, after five long years, Spanish director Fresnadillo has chosen to follow up the surprisingly excellent 28 Weeks Later with this; a derivative, deeply unscary, waste of a talented cast, with a twist so head-slappingly idiotic that when I guessed it about half an hour in, I dismissed the thought, because 'there's no way they'd be that stupid'. They'd be that stupid.

The narrative divides in half. In the UK Clive Owen and Carice VanHouten are concerned when their daughter Ella Purnell (who is the best thing in the film, showing promise as she did as the young Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go) begins to report an intruder - who she calls Hollowface - in her room, but their concern shift when it seems first that she imagines Hollowface, and later that she has drawn her Father into the delusion. In Spain Pilar López de Ayala seeks the help of her local priest (an uncomfortable looking Daniel Bruhl) when her young son (Izán Corchero) begins to have terrible nightmares about a man he calls Hollowface.

When the twist comes it is both unbelievable and totally obvious - well done, I suppose, to the movie for straddling that fine line - and if that were the only problem then I might have been fine with Intruders, unfortunately the film veers between the insipid (the endless Guillermo Del Toro rip offs), the inexplicable (an utterly gratuitous nude scene for VanHouten, who is asked to contribute almost nothing else), and the outright idiotic (the hilarious scene in which Owen sets up a figure to represent Hollowface on his lawn, and sets fire to it, so his daughter won't be scared anymore). It's plodding and dull at an overstretched 105 minutes, and a tremendous let down from a director who seemed set for better things.

The Descendants [15]
Dir: Alexander Payne
I've not been the biggest fan of the critically lauded Alexander Payne, and I wasn't really expecting much from his latest film either, but Payne took me by surprise here, delivering a bittersweet treat that sacrifices neither laughs nor emotional depth.

George Clooney stars as Matt, who has previously been a part time Dad to his daughters; seventeen year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and ten year old Scottie (Amara Miller), but finds himself having to step up after his wife suffers a head injury in a boating accident. Told that his wife is dying, Matt want to tell her friends and family, but when Alexandra tells him that his wife had been having an affair, Matt wants to confront the guy.

Alexander Payne mixes drama and comedy assuredly here. Clooney is often quite sardonic as Matt - particularly in relation to his teenage daughter's tactless boyfriend (Nick Krause, scoring a good few laughs) - but he never allows this to swamp Matt's grief, indeed it seems to be a way of dealing with it at times, particularly when he finally meets his wife's lover (Matthew Lillard) and greets him with "Elizabeth is dying. Wait... Fuck you! And she's dying." Sometimes underestimated as an actor, Clooney gives one of his best performances here, not falling back on the easy charm that is his stock in trade in things like the Oceans films, he invests the film with a palpable history that gives weight to a relationship we never see.

The rest of the cast is excellent too, Woodley and Miller are given reasonably complex roles as the daughters, and play them well, while Robert Forster (as Clooney's Father in Law) and Matthew Lillard do well in small parts, however, the film is very nearly stolen from under all of their noses by a wonderful cameo from Judy Greer (who has made a career of showing up briefly and stealing movies). As Lillard's wife, Greer goes through the complete emotional spectrum in her three brief scenes, and never hits a false note. Greer has not proved prominent enough for awards attention, but she's certainly good enough.

The Descendants is best when it is personal, a subplot about unspoiled Hawaiian land that Matt and his family may have to sell falls flat. In those moments it is smart, honest, funny and sad, for me it's probably Payne's best to date, and it's well worth catching up with if you haven't already.

Man on a Ledge [12A]
Dir: Asger Leth
Remember The Fugitive? Alright, so it was nearly 20 years ago now (I feel old), but surely you remember that pulse pounding thriller about a man on the run (Harrison Ford) and the cop trying to catch him (Tommy Lee Jones). Okay, now imagine that film was almost completely inert. And that instead of Harrison Ford you had Sam Worthington. And instead of Tommy Lee Jones you had Elizabeth Banks (no, really). THEN imagine that somebody bolted on an heroically stupid heist movie. Sounds shit, doesn't it? Welcome to Man on a Ledge. It's not very good.

I'm tempted to call Sam Worthington a plank, but that would be rude. Planks are useful. Worthington is an utterly useless actor, he's got all the charisma of a wet tea towel, and about as much talent for characterisation, and of course his famous randomly migrating accent makes a non-awaited return. He's laughably unconvincing as the ex-cop framed for a diamond heist and sentenced to 25 years in prison (the stakes pale next to The Fugitive's death sentence), but remarkably he's not the most miscast person in the film.

Someone decided to cast Elizabeth Banks as a cop with a bad attitude and a troubled past. ELIZABETH BANKS! What in the name of all things holy were they thinking? The first time we see her she's waking up late and reaching for a bottle of pills (while wearing a see through top, stay classy movie), and I almost burst out laughing. It's such a cliché image of the anti-hero cop, and it just makes no sense with Banks (especially as she looks as perfect as ever). If the role were better written (as in if they didn't forget almost every character trait after about ten minutes) I'd suggest that someone like Vera Farmiga would have been better suited, but - one hopes - she's got better things to do.

The biggest problem really is that the only remotely exciting action is happening across the way from Worthington's character, as Jamie Bell and the unfeasibly good looking Genesis Rodriguez (who has a gratuitous underwear scene, again, stay classy movie... but also... thanks) attempt a heist. It's hackneyed beyond all belief, and completely ludicrous, but at least it's a little more engaging than a bad actor standing still.

An early twist is so predictable that you think the movie must SURELY be faking you out, but it isn't, it's just that dumb and dull. Then the last twenty minutes happen, and stupid piles on stupid, piles on STUPID, but not in a fun way. Man on a Ledge starts idiotically - by telling us all about Worthington's character before we find him on the ledge - and it ends idiotically. I wanted to yell JUMP for most of the running time.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen or heard much about Intruders. I'm a little intrigued but not really that fussed about it.

    I loved The Descendants, even though the first 20mins of the film kept drifting out of focus. Clooney's career is a bit bi-polar as I love some of his work (Fantastic Mr Fox), and hate other bits but I thought he was great here. Hope it walks away with something at the Oscars, but I don't think it will.

    I thought Man on a Ledge was dull. Glad you picked up on the unnecessary see-through tshirt. I have issues with such blatant attempts to win over guys, including the two appearances of half naked ladies. Any film that uses this technique immediately loses my respect