Thursday 4 June 2015

Reviews: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, Spring, and Clouds of Sils Maria

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson
Running time: 130 mins

Perhaps not up there with director Brad Bird’s very best work (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) but this old-fashioned, family-oriented, sci-fi romp is a lot of fun nevertheless. Clooney plays a curmudgeonly and reclusive scientist, Robertson the wide-eyed girl-genius who fetches up at his door searching for the titular destination – a futuristic utopian society constructed by Earth’s brightest and best that exists in a parallel dimension. I enjoyed Tomorrowland’s retro SF styling, its optimism (a better world is possible but we have to want it badly enough) and the fact it seemed influenced by some pretty impeccable work (a sprinkling of HG Wells here, a splash of Alan Moore’s Watchmen there). It also contains a couple of genuinely thrilling action set-pieces as good as anything you’ll see in other blockbusters this summer. That said, isn’t it time Hollywood called a moratorium on films featuring a “special one” who can save the world? It was getting old when Joss Whedon first did it with Buffy in 1992 but now seems incredibly hackneyed. At least Robertson excels in the saviour role, her Casey Newton character being everything you look for in a movie heroine; plucky, resourceful and hugely likeable.

Rating: WWW

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is in cinemas now

Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar
Running Time: 109 mins

The likes of The Babadook, Honeymoon and Starry Eyes have managed to assuage my contempt for modern horror and that positive trend continues with this clever romantic spin on the genre. Pucci’s character Evan flees from the US to Italy when his life falls apart and he soon meets the beautiful and enigmatic Louise (Hilker). They start a passionate affair but his beloved ends the relationship as the terrifying secret she harbours becomes harder to conceal. So far, so seemingly formulaic, but writer/co-director Benson and partner-in-crime Moorhead effortlessly side-step the usual traps and tropes typical of such material. The horror element is ever-present and rears its head in the odd eye-popping sequence but it is never once allowed to overwhelm the characters or the mystery of what Louise really is (not an alien, werewolf, vampire or zombie, in case you were wondering). Although there’s a darkly humorous element to proceedings, this is no tongue-in-cheek, Life After Beth-style comedy. Spring is played straight for the most part and is all the better for it. It’s a thoughtful and atmospheric character piece with something to say about sticking by people even when they are at their absolute worst. Although the final 15 minutes veer into “love conquers all” territory, it is easy to forgive. These engaging characters have more than earned our indulgence. 

Rating: WWW

Spring is in cinemas now and available on DVD 

Clouds of Sils Maria
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloƫ Grace Moretz
Running time: 124 mins
Fantasy and reality collide in this talky but fascinating drama featuring Binoche as a successful Hollywood actress asked to star again in the stage play – Maloja Snake – that launched her career 20 years before. Concerning a lesbian relationship between an older woman and her much younger employee, Maria Enders (Binoche) had originally played the role of the manipulative teen that drives her boss to suicide. Enders initially recoils when offered the part of the middle-aged woman in the revival but she and personal assistant Valentine (Stewart) nevertheless take to a remote region of the Alps to rehearse. Stewart – who improves as an actor with every film – imbues Val with nuance and depth, and matches old-stager Binoche every step of the way here. Maria and Val’s is an enigmatic relationship – intense, yes, but as friends and confidants rather than lovers. At times it’s hard to work out when they are actually conversing and when they are running lines from Maloja Snake. There is mutual dependence but distance and antagonism between them, too. Unpicking their complicated friendship is as tricky as unpicking the film’s many themes and ideas. Clouds is clearly a rumination on ageing, and how easily we are all replaced by younger, more dynamic up-and-comers (in Enders’ case it’s by enfant terrible Jo-Ann Ellis, played with twinkly-eyed glee by Moretz). But there’s more to it than that, including a distinct meta element that interrogates the way in which art and real life overlap. You end up wondering whether anyone or anything in the film is meant to be real; a thought that lingers every bit as long in the memory as the beautifully-shot Swiss Alps.

Rating: WWW

Clouds of Sils Maria is in cinemas now and also available on VOD


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

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