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Friday, 20 March 2015

Shorts

Sadly, I simply don’t have time to write lengthy reviews of every new film I see, so here’s a catch-up on some of the other stuff I’ve enjoyed most in the last few weeks…

In cinemas

Still Alice
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart
Running time: 101 mins




Moore (as Alice) is every bit as fantastic as you'll have heard but I’ve been surprised by how sniffy some critics have been about the rest of the film. Following the Oscar winner’s language professor as she fights a losing battle against early onset Alzheimer’s, it is certainly a simple, subtle, perhaps even low-key affair, but is far removed from some of the “TV movie” jibes I’ve seen. For a start, all the performances are good, particularly Stewart as Lydia, Moore’s wannabe actress daughter, and Baldwin as husband John, a character who becomes less and less sympathetic as Alice’s condition worsens. It’s a work that eschews melodrama or directorial/screenplay pyrotechnics in an attempt to properly, soberly show us the affect of a terrible disease on both its sufferer and their family. And it does so very effectively indeed.

Rating: WWW

Chappie
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser
Running time: 120 mins



“Short Circuit meets Robocop” seems to have become Chappie’s unofficial tagline although it’s probably an accurate one. In a future Johannesburg, policing has been turned over to robotic "Scouts" but when the architect of the project (Patel) manages to make one of them – Chappie – fully sentient trouble soon comes a knocking as the AI is kidnapped by a gang and forced to commit criminal acts. Blomkamp can always be relied upon to give good dystopia and this, his third feature, is a thrill-a-minute joyride not a million miles off the quality of District 9. Copley doing the motion-capture thing as Chappie is meant to be the star of the show but I enjoyed  South African rap group Die Antwoord (Ninja and Visser) just as much. The pair play members of the kidnap gang (also called Ninja and Yolandi) and over the course of the film bring both intensity and sensitivity to the roles. One criticism? Sigourney Weaver is sorely underused.

Rating: WWW

On VOD and DVD

Obvious Child
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman
Running time: 84 mins




Slate plays Donna Stern, a scatological young Jewish comedian whose life is turned upside down when her boyfriend absconds with her best friend, and she gets knocked up by a guy she barely knows (Lacy). It’s hugely refreshing to see a film which deals with the subject of unwanted pregnancy without recourse to melodrama or cloying sentiment while Slate’s terrifically funny as Stern. She’s a loveable walking disaster whose difficult transition to adulthood makes for painful – but entirely relatable – viewing. The script is fresh, funny and packed with decent one-liners; first-time writer/director Robespierre is clearly one to watch.

Rating: WWWW

Coherence
Director: James Ward Byrkit 
Starring: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
Running time: 89 mins




Made for a reported $50,000, Coherence is a clever bit of sci-fi set, for the most part, in a single Los Angeles home. Eight fractious friends have gathered for a dinner party on the night a comet passes overhead but the cosmic fireworks somehow bend reality, and the film suddenly becomes an intriguing mash-up of Sliding Doors (referenced in the script) and Another Earth. We’re talking alternate realities and writer/director Byrkit has great fun with the idea that there might be more than one of us out there – like us but not us in important, perhaps troubling, ways. It reminded me a little of Primer, another film that serves up a single thought (time travel is possible) and then just pushes it and pushes it to see how crazy things can get. If there’s a problem it’s that Coherence’s characters aren’t nearly engaging enough but you’d have to be a contender for curmudgeon of the year to let that spoil what is an intriguing and thought-provoking piece of work.

Rating: WWW

The Skeleton Twins
Director: Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson
Running time: 93 mins



This bleak comedy/drama stars former Saturday Night Live pair Wiig and Hader as the titular siblings. Maggie and Milo are two lost souls, left bereft and suicidal after their father jumped off a bridge when they were only teens. It’s a gloomy, autumnal film at times but one leavened with sharp wit and enjoyable character moments. The leads are both excellent as is Wilson as Lance, Wiig’s dull but thoroughly decent husband. Writers Craig Johnson (who also directed) and Mark Heyman deserve great credit for their ability to mine laughs from such difficult subject matter.

Rating: WWW


Ratings

WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthy
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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