Friday 9 January 2015

Reviews: The Guest, The Rover, The Theory of Everything, The Congress

The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe
Running time: 99mins
The only episode of Downtown I’d watch would be one in which the servants offed the toffs and declared the abbey a Marxist republic, so you’ll forgive me for not being au fait with Stevens’ previous work. He’s actually very good in this, all ripped abs and convincing Yank accent as David, a soldier with a very dark secret. It’s one of those “stranger-danger” thrillers so popular in the ’80s in which an innocent family, couple or person is first befriended then menaced by some insidious outsider (see Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, Pacific Heights etc). Action-packed and genuinely funny in parts (Stevens, it turns out, can do comedy too), The Guest lands a couple of slyly satirical jabs square on the jaw of the US army which is probably what I liked about it most.
Rating: WW

The Guest is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD now

The Rover
Director: David Michôd
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Running time: 103mins
It’s been a while since I saw a film that drew me so totally into its world as The Rover. Set in Australia 10 years after a major economic catastrophe (called The Collapse), you can almost taste the paranoia, desperation and fear in every frame as Pearce (superb, his thousand-yard stare worth the price of admission on its own) tracks the gang who stole his car across a dangerous, sun-scorched outback. He’s accompanied by Pattinson, almost as good and nearly unrecognisable as the slow-witted brother of one of the thieves. It’s hard to buy into some on-screen dystopias because the actors and sets look rather too spick and span. That isn’t a problem here, director Michôd giving us a perfectly-realised – and beautifully shot – setting in which almost everyone we encounter is dirty, dishevelled, exhausted, sweaty, dusty and quite mad. The ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of it but this is still a fine and very stylish piece of work.
Rating: WWW

The Rover is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD now

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Maxine Peake, David Thewlis
Running time: 123mins
If anyone deserves a biopic, it’s Professor Stephen Hawking, a man with an extraordinary mind who has lived an extraordinary life. Unfortunately, whilst being very watchable and full of great performances, The Theory of Everything is, well, just a little bit… ordinary. Based on Jane Hawking’s book, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, it deals well enough with the blossoming and eventual disintegration of the Hawkings’ relationship, and is perhaps even better when charting the insidious progress of the professor’s motor neurone disease. Where it’s less sure footed is in discussing Hawking’s theories and ideas which it limits to a few brief scenes and a couple of unconvincing “Eureka” moments. Somehow, the film never lets you into Hawking’s head to have a proper poke around and it’s that lack of imagination, that inability to take a few storytelling risks, which ultimately hamstrings it. More positively, Redmayne and Jones will be in the running for every acting award going this year and quite rightly so. Redmayne’s performance is every bit as good as you’ll have heard while Jones is his equal in a far less sympathetic role.
Rating: WW

The Theory of Everything is in cinemas now

The Congress
Director: Ari Folman
Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti
Running time: 122mins
A gorgeous, eccentric, ambitious, imaginative and downright baffling mix of live action and animation, The Congress features Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump) as an ageing, washed-up Hollywood actress… also called Robin Wright. For a handsome one-off fee, she’s persuaded by the head of a film studio (Huston) to let them digitise her “essence” so she can simply be uploaded into any future film they see fit. She reluctantly agrees. We fast-forward 20 years into the future and that’s when director Folman’s jaw-dropping animated sequences kick in and the film gets stranger and stranger. Teeming with ideas, The Congress is a Hollywood satire (with plenty to say about the career choices faced by actresses of a certain age), a rumination on identity in these digital days, and a warning about the dangers of rampant technological advance. Folman made his name with the Golden Globe-winning Waltz with Bashir, an hypnotic and harrowing animation about the Lebanon War. This is far more playful but every bit as essential.
Rating: WWWW

The Congress is available on DVD and Blu-ray now


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

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