Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galfianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Plot: Two rival North Carolina politicians with presidential aspirations tangle with one another.
Release Dates: 10th August (USA), 28th September (UK)
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galfianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Plot: Two rival North Carolina politicians with presidential aspirations tangle with one another.
Release Dates: 10th August (USA), 28th September (UK)
Adapting a film into a play is in theory much easier that vice-versa. You just need to take the set and characters and strip everything down to the bare bones so that the focus is on a few people rather than a cast of a thousand. Bringing a play to the big screen however, is a task and half. With infinitely more room to play with, the sparse scenes are often transformed to incorporate different places and scenarios – Terence Davies has adapted Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea without a great deal of tinkering, but does it work as a feature film?
Hester Collyer (Weisz) is in a state of extreme melancholic apathy for life. Through flashbacks, we learn that she was trapped in a loveless marriage with a judge, Sir William Collyer (Beale). His wealth, an obvious attraction to Hester to begin with, has lost its sparkle and she has realised over time that she needs some excitement in her life. Enter dashing RAF officer Freddie Page (Hiddlestone), who sweeps Hester off her feet at the height of World War II – they begin a torrid affair which remains secret for months. During a visit to her mother-in-law which doesn’t go well at all, Hester is caught on the phone talking to Freddie when she calls him ‘darling’ – William confronts her and decides to throw her out of the house but not to grant her a divorce under any circumstances. Hester moves in permanently with Freddie, whose flying career is now in jeopardy. Not only is the war over, but he has now developed a drinking problem.
The passion in Hester and Freddie’s relationship starts to burn out and having found herself between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, Hester attempts to commit suicide, but is saved in time by the landlady Mrs. Elton (Ann Mitchell) and a neighbour, Mr. Miller (Karl Johnson), who calls himself a ‘doctor’. Freddie returns home, unaware of Hester’s actions but finds her to be depressed about something. Suddenly remembering it is Hester’s birthday, he apologies for forgetting, but then finds her suicide note addressed to him and storms out. William then pays Hester a visit with the intention of gloating but is actually humbled by her state and says he will give her a divorce. Hester finds Freddie in the local pub and tries to reason with him – at first she is successful, but after a few arguments, Hester and Freddie decide that they cannot go on any longer. Freddie then gives Hester some news that will either tear her life apart or help her to find resolve and move on.
The Deep Blue Sea, not to be confused with Deep Blue Sea (1999), is nevertheless an experience similar to being chewed up and spat out by a Great White. The scenes alternate between being morose at one extreme to blazing rows at the other, with little in between. Rachel Weisz gives a fairly underwhelming performance as the deeply troubled Hester – this is despite the critical acclaim she received in 2009 for playing the far more complex role of Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in London’s West End. Her character doesn’t do Weisz any favours – there is a point during the film, about halfway in where you just feel that Hester should give up men altogether – but the proverbial bullet is shot into her foot over and over again, much to the detriment of any enjoyment the script may have originally held in the theatre.
Tom Hiddleston’s Freddie is possibly the most annoyingly posh, one-dimensional character you could ever think up in such a film. With some toe-curlingly corny lines in the first few scenes (the word ‘darling’ never sounded so cringeworthy), you’d expect him to say “chocks away!” at some point – thankfully this doesn’t happen, but he comes very close on occasion. Beale’s Sir William is the only role that comes out with any credit – it would have been simple for him to play the judge as an upper-class twit but instead he comes across with dignity and grace. Davies’ direction pays homage to the theatrical heritage of the story, but even with his reputation the camerawork is average at best, meshing together the story back and forth by montage, without any real purpose. Some of the sets are impressive though – post-war London never looked so bleak and empty, especially in the final few scenes.
The Deep Blue Sea is certainly no classic story of unrequited love in the same league as Casablanca (1942) or Brief Encounter (1945). However, the feeling of a bruised and battered relationship limping to its inevitable end is well reflected in the era of post-war malaise in which it is set. There is little entertainment value here, but perhaps a visit to the theatre is required to really understand Rattigan’s original message.
Oh, the great divide that is the Atlantic. On the one hand, we have the Americans making countless TV shows about the serious threat of terrorism. From 24 to Homeland, we are forced to confront the very genuine threat of an enemy within – people who could be living down our very street, who are intent on causing widespread destruction and death. Then we have the British sense of humour, which is well-known for laughing in the face of fear, narrowly treading the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Four Lions softens the view that all terrorist cells are well-organised machines, lying low with an unerring precision, ready to strike at will. But does director/writer Christopher Morris of Brass Eye fame really hit the satirical nail on the head with this comedy about suicide bombers?
A group of Muslim men from Sheffield have become radicalised and decide to realise their ambition to become terrorists. Leader of the cell Omar (Ahmed), his dumb friend Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a white convert to Islam and Faisal (Akhtar), who tries to train crows to be suicide bombers. While Omar and Waj visit Pakistan to attend a training camp, Barry recruits another member, Hassan (Arsher Ali). The training doesn’t go very well at all, as Omar tries to down an American drone with a rocket but ends up shooting some of their fellow jihadists instead. Omar glosses over the incident, pretending nothing happened and that he is now ready to properly take on the mantle of leader.
Having had a great deal of trouble acquiring the ingredients to make a number of improvised explosives, Omar and the others disagree on the target. Barry declares that they should bomb their local mosque in an attempt to radicalise the moderates, but this idea is dismissed by Omar as being ridiculous. Faisal suggests targeting Boots, but Omar doesn’t think it would be worthwhile. Hassan almost gives away their plan, when he invites their neighbour Alice (Julia Davis) into the safe house, despite the fact that there are an assortment of chemicals on the living room floor. After a traumatic event, the group members finally come to a consensus that they should target the London Marathon, hiding their bomb vests dressed as such luminaries as The Honey Monster and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – but as the police close in, will they succeed?
Four Lions is amusing in places, but isn’t as funny or cutting as it claims to be. Having the central theme of a comedy featuring terrorists who actually do wish to inflict injury and death on other people only works to a certain point though – any early laughs become increasingly sporadic as reality starts to kick in. During the scenes that do raise a few laughs – the training camp and the exploding crow spring to mind – the comedy is based around slapstick, whereas bringing the tone down to a level such as In The Loop (2009) and thereby magnifying its slight mockumentary style (seen through surveillance cameras, perhaps?), might have been far more effective. The first hour is therefore reasonably light-hearted, until the film takes a more sinister turn, although it does manage to fit in a few more chuckles from this point nonetheless.
Where the comedy does work tends to involve Nigel Lindsay’s manic convert – his screen presence easily outshines his co-stars and he appears to be more at home playing this type of black comic character than the others. Riz Ahmed, as bewildered leader Omar, actually conveys his character’s extreme views and exasperation with his cohorts with the right balance. Sadly, the other members of the group are so unbelievably naive that they are rather cartoonish and take what could have been a very clever and original take on the matter of terrorism into silly territory. Christopher Morris’ direction is probably the best thing about the whole film. He displays a deft touch when our protagonists are trying to film their suicide messages to the British government – what should be a serious moment turns into farce concerning the size of a gun – these scenes provide the best moments and a glimpse of what could have been.
Four Lions may offend viewers who have been deeply affected by terrorism, but the main concern here is actually the lack of coherent humour. In a black comedy we are supposed to have empathy for the anti-hero(es), but as many film critics have revelled in the satirical swiping that the film represents, they’ve missed a crucial point – is it genuinely funny throughout? The answer to that question would be a resounding no.
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Plot: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Release Dates: 12th October (USA, UK)
Director: Mike Cahill
Stars: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Plot: On the same night that a duplicate Earth is discovered in the sky, the paths of a student and a composer become inextricably linked by a tragic accident.
When the end of the world (or at least as we know it) is nigh, Hollywood makes sure we get the message. In 1998, Paramount and Dreamworks’ Deep Impact put Morgan Freeman in charge when an asteroid was heading on a collision course for Earth. The same year heralded the release of Touchstone’s Armageddon and it was down to Bruce Willis and Aerosmith to combine in deflecting another rogue piece of space rock away from our planet. Fast-forward to 2011 and the flavour of the year was a planet moving within poking distance or worse with both Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Mike Cahill’s Another Earth. The latter of these films takes a much more subtle approach – suggesting that we are in fact not just alone in the universe, but we have doppelgängers living the same lives on a carbon copy of our Earth.
Rhoda Williams (Marling) is a hard-working, successful star-gazing student living in New Haven, Connecticut, who has learnt that she has been accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To celebrate, she gets drunk with her friends but then drives herself home. While listening to the radio, Rhoda learns about a blue star that has suddenly appeared in the sky and she gazes up, only to lose control and crash into the car of a family, killing the wife and son of celebrated composer John Burroughs (Mapother), who is left in a coma. Rhoda serves a four-year prison sentence for manslaughter and, on her release, reluctantly integrates herself into the outside world, becoming a janitor at the local school. Having continued her job and heard more about the approaching planet, she decides to go and apologise to John, who has now recovered and is living as a recluse.
As John never learnt of Rhoda’s identity due to the fact that she was a minor at the time of the accident, he doesn’t realise who she is and when Rhoda hesitates in revealing herself, she pretends to be touting for cleaning business Maid in Haven and offers to clean John’s house as part of a free trial. Rhoda returns to John’s house and they develop a friendship, despite John not knowing her secret. As the planet gets nearer, it becomes apparent that it is in fact very similar to Earth – contact is made by a radio host on live television with truly astonishing results. Rhoda enters a writing competition sponsored by a millionaire, to send a member of the public to the mirror earth. As events in the sky and closer to home reach a profound crescendo, Rhoda decides that she must tell John the truth about who she is, so that her conscience is clear should she be selected to meet her ‘other self’.
Another Earth is undeniably thought-provoking, although doesn’t reach the heady heights of Melancholia. The decidedly lo-fi effects – there are no whizzing spaceships or fantastical alien lands to explore – create a very decidedly indie feel which at times is frustrating but touching in equal measure. The relationship between Rhoda and John is rather contrived as are the multiple plot strands which litter the screenplay, especially the Signs-style money shot at the end of the scene where contact is made with the ‘aliens’. Although it appears that the idea that we have doubles living on an identical planet to our own has been fleshed out into a deliberately low-key affair, there is something very appealing to the whole set up. The most striking thing about the film is the cinematography, which is simple but very effective – director/writer Mike Cahill who has taken on this role too, puts together some intriguing shots of our ‘sister’ planet, but this just leaves us wanting to know more about it.
Virtual newcomer Brit Marling, who takes a writing credit as well as the lead, doesn’t set the world (or the other one for that matter) alight, but she has potential, given the right role. Marling portrays Rhoda’s guilt superbly early on, even though when she beings to thaw and develop a relationship with John there is little to suggest that Marling has a great career as a character actress, just yet. William Mapother, cruelly pigeon-holed as ‘Tom Cruise’s cousin’ (there is an odd resemblance if you squint your eyes at his profile) plays John Burroughs with the guy-through-the-wringer style which is required. Even fans of Lost will find the particularly dubious character of Ethan well and truly buried. The main problem here is that the two leads don’t really display enough chemistry to convince us that they could actually become friends, let alone lovers. Perhaps with a little tweaking of the screenplay and a touch lengthening of the running time, this could have been given room to develop more.
Another Earth has a wonderful premise, but it sadly keeps its feet firmly on the ground of ‘Earth 1′. Cahill’s purposeful style in keeping the action in an almost Winter’s Bone dreariness is a little too much to take. However, in terms of originality, this one certainly stands out from the crowd.
Director: Gerardo Naranjo
Stars: Stephanie Sigman, Noe Hernandez, Irene Azuela
Plot: Laura Guerrero dreams of being a beauty queen, but when she gets mixed up in the local drugs war, her life starts to spiral out of control.
Taking two separate, seemingly unrelated genres and combining them to make a film appears to be the norm nowadays. The unimaginatively titled Cowboys & Aliens (2011) threw E.T. into the Wild West, with mixed results. Miss Bala intermingles a beauty pageant with a violent drugs war – not the most obvious blend you’ll agree – but is the film’s message more about the futility of beauty pageants rather than drug-related gang violence?
Laura Guerrero (Sigman) is a 23-year-old Mexican who lives with her father and brother, working in the family business selling clothes. However, she dreams of a better life and goes along to auditions for the Miss Baja California beauty pageant with her best friend Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo). After both being successful in the first round, Laura and Suzu go to the Millenium nightclub to meet up with Suzu’s boyfriend, whom Laura mistrusts. She goes to the bathroom, but before she can persuade Suzu to leave with her, a group of gangsters break in and slaughter members of a rival group along with innocent bystanders. The leader of the mob, Lino Valdez (Hernandez), spares Laura’s life as long as she doesn’t reveal his identity to the police. Laura then manages to slip out of a rear doorway just as the police arrive – Suzu however, is missing after being caught up in the melee.
The following day, Laura manages to find a traffic cop sitting in his car and says she has information about the slaughter the previous night. He reluctantly decides to take her to the police station, but stops off on the way – it turns out he is also under the payroll of Valdez, who appears with his henchmen and bundles Laura into his van. Valdez forces Laura to work for him, but in return she demands that he finds out what happened to Suzu and also get them both into the final round of Miss Baja California auditions. Valdez agrees, by bribing the pageant organisers and making her park a car in front of the American Embassy, which is later discovered to have three unidentified bodies in the boot of the car. Despite Laura’s anxiety about her situation and the possible fate of Suzu, Valdez continues to use her to do his dirty work, with increasingly shocking results.
Miss Bala (or Miss Bullet in Spanish), isn’t the amazing spectacle that critics who lauded the movie’s release at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival would have you believe. Juxtaposing the beauty contest against the backdrop of Mexican drug gangs is a strange combination which isn’t particularly necessary. The Miss Baja California contest is really a sideshow of the real battle which out on the streets of Tijuana – all we really needed was an innocent girl at the centre of a gang war, but the whole subplot of Laura’s dream for fame and fortune isn’t given much time to develop at all and feels like it has been shoved in as an afterthought. There’s a real sense that the violence featured in No Country for Old Men (2007) has heavily influenced many scenes in Miss Bala – the bleakness of both the desert and urban landscapes are almost identical and at times you begin wonder if Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is lurking around the next corner with a captive bolt pistol.
Stephanie Sigman’s performance is commendable, as she plays the unsuspecting Laura Guerrero, who is dragged into a world of violence instead of the seemingly glamorous world of beauty pageants. On the one hand, she could have portrayed Laura as a soppy character throughout, but quickly conveys her courage as she is forced into increasingly dangerous situations. Noe Hernandez, as the villain of the piece Lino Valdez, looks the part even though his character is one of the most stereotyped in film history. Valdez’s menace and manipulative techniques are well-portayed by Hernandez, who convinces as the mob leader. As these are the only two characters properly featured in the whole film, the supporting cast are more almost extras, with the remaining gangsters being one-dimensional, as are the other beauty pageant contestants. Gerardo Naranjo’s direction is one of the main plus points and though the action is not filmed using ridiculous shaky camera angles as would we would expect, there are some subtle touches which make the exchanges between Laura and Valdez far more riveting.
Miss Bala is well-acted, but lacks a certain bite in terms of hitting home any particular moral to the story. We understand that parts of Mexico are rife with almost uncontrollable gang warfare, but when the supporting characters are as bland as these, it’s difficult to really comprehend or feel sympathy for Laura’s plight.
Comic book films are expected to follow a strict formula, which in turn makes them difficult to broaden their scope for originality. Whether it be a radioactive spider which bites an unsuspecting human or an alien with ready-made superpowers crash-landing on earth, the germ of an idea always grows from an accepted convention, which makes Megamind stand out from the crowd. This is a very ‘knowing’ film that openly mocks the idea that superheroes are all good and so-called villains are inherently evil.
Megamind (Ferrell) is a self-proclaimed alien genius, who has suffered at the cruel hand of fate. He arrived in a pod as a baby from his home planet, sent by his parents as his world is consumed by a black hole. At exactly the same time, his nemesis Metro Man (Pitt) came to Earth in the same fashion, but his custom-made spaceship collided with Megamind’s, landing him outside a rich family’s doorstep whilst Megamind ended up in a prison yard. And so the path of good and evil was set. For the following years, the two battled eachother until Megamind finally won, apparently vapourising his enemy during a very public battle. He is now in control of Metro City, but having lain waste to the people’s freedoms and literally cast the entire city under a cloud, Megamind finds himself without an opponent to keep him occupied.
Meanwhile, reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) is kidnapped by Megamind and his friend Minion (David Cross) as part of his plan to bring down Metro Man. When Megamind releases her after his plan is accomplished, he goes to the Metro Man Museum in order to blow it up, but notices that Roxanne is there too. He disguises himself as curator Bernard (Ben Stiller) using a special device and finds himself falling for his former hostage. Roxanne’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sneaks into Megamind’s lair with help from her cameraman Hall (Hill). Megamind, inspired by a comment Roxanne made about creating a new superhero to do battle with, gets Metro Man’s DNA so that he can inject it into a human. Whilst selecting his target, he accidentally turns Hal into “Titan” – after a brief moment of panic, he manages to train his new adversary, but of course, it doesn’t all go according to plan.
The first half an hour of Megamind is a dazzling barrage of one-liners, which you’d expect to find in many Will Ferrell films. Such exchanges between Pitt’s Metro Man and Ferrell’s Megamind as: “It’s revenge and it’s best served cold!” “But it can be easily reheated, in the microwave of evil!” initially come thick and fast, giving the film a cracking start. But like, Megamind himself, the script loses its way after this promising beginning, resorting to particularly silly and predictable set-pieces which we’ve all seen many times before. Taking such an original approach to comic book storylines and films needs to be maintained throughout the entire spectacle and unfortunately the plot succumbs to the age-old formula it is trying so desperately to mock. Despite its faults, the storyline manages to entertain and there are still a few ripostes from Megamind and Minion to their bewildering situation that will no doubt tickle even the most cynical of funny bones.
Will Ferrell is well-cast as hapless supervillian Megamind. The delivery of the sharpest lines needs someone who knows how to convey comedy in this way and he is the perfect choice. His funny exchanges with Tina Fey’s Roxanne are most in part down to the script, but once again it is Fey’s wit that is required and she delivers. The animation is nothing out of the extraordinary, as Dreamworks aren’t presently a patch on Pixar when it comes to detail – but it does the job and there are some very neat sequences that would look nice and shiny on the 3D big-screen. Tom McGrath’s direction is at times thrilling during the action scenes, but there are few moments where you could say he raises the bar in any way. It’s interesting to note that Guillermo Del Toro is credited as a producer here, although you would be hard-pressed to find any of his weird and wonderful Spanish flair injected into Megamind himself.
There is much to like about Megamind, although the theme of self-parody is now rather common among animated feature films. However, this is a decent effort in poking fun at how film studios expect us to pay good money to see a conveyor belt of superheroes at the cinema, just with different names and dressed up in an alternative matching cape and Y-fronts.