Friday 24 February 2017

Crimes against credibility

FILM REVIEWS

Padraic McKiernan and Hilary A white

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Cert 16

THE third and final movie adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's mega-selling Millennium trilogy is already in the can and is titled The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. On the evidence of violence visited on the bad guys by pneumatic pocket-rocket Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) in The Girl Who Played with Fire, you can't help feeling a twinge of pity for the forthcoming fate of the hornets.

Not that this enigmatic computer hacker/keyboard commando doesn't have her reasons. Those who caught the first instalment will know that Salander is a veritable misogyny magnet, and this feature directed by Daniel Alfredson sees an expansion of that specific story arc. A year has passed since Salander and her partner in crime-prevention, crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), solved the case of the serial killer with Nazi sympathies, and Lisbeth has spent the intervening period living outside Sweden.

Any hopes of a quiet life on her return are short lived, however. A journalist writing for Blomkvist's paper, together with his activist partner are gunned down just as they were going to run with a high-profile sex-trafficking story. If that wasn't enough to be going on with, Salander's legal guardian and chief abuser in the first instalment has also been whacked. The murder weapon links Salander to all three killings. Cue race to clear her name. But who is trying to frame her? Naturally, the plot soon thickens.

And thickens is the operative word here, alas. The crimes against credibility that were flirted with in the superior Dragon Tattoo are ramped up a gear in this instance to the point of unredeemed risibility. Production values can't be faulted, performances are top-notch and fans of the fiction are unlikely to be disappointed, but there are scenes towards the conclusion that could only be justified in an enterprise playing it for laughs. Unfortunately it's not.

The Girl Who Played with Fire opens on Friday

PMcK

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Cert: 12A

WITH his effeminate, feline face and so-square-he's-cool manner, Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) has become the go-to guy for soft-centred comedy about awkward youngsters. In this new comedy-fantasy from Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, Cera is, yet again, cast as the cuddly slacker, a role he shows no sign of leaving behind just yet.

The problem is, he's just so good at it. As Scott Pilgrim (originally a Canadian comic book character), Cera's blank smiles and scrawny angst make the character likeable to the audience even when, as Wright put it in a recent interview, he is "being an ass".

Scott Pilgrim lives in suburban Toronto and plays in a band called Sex Bob-omb. One night, he dreams about a mysterious purple-haired girl (doe-eyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who, it turns out, is called Ramona and lives in the vicinity. He happens across the real-life Ramona and becomes smitten by her nonchalant, punky mystique. When she begins to entertain the idea of going out with him, seven evil ex-boyfriends appear one by one, like bosses at the end of video-game levels. In some impressive manga- meets- arcade- game spoofery, our hero has a succession of exaggerated duels complete with cheesy banter, all for the fair lady's hand. It's like the PlayStation generation is being given a run down of young love's complications.

The dreadful trailer makes Scott Pilgrim... seem like a paean to the "like, totally" fraternity. What makes this more than just another vehicle for Cera's schtick is the humour, which often takes on a wonderfully silly visual format. Comic and video-game references -- split screens, hovering icons and Batman-esque onomatopoeia -- abound, while fidgety turns of shot direction suggest that even the camera crew had a hoot.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World opens this week

HAW

The Illusionist

Cert: 12A

Jacques Tati remains, 28 years after his death, France's king of physical comedy and a revered filmmaker. In this touching feature-length animation, director Sylvain Chomet pays homage to the master clown, as well as telling a warming tale about locating the magic in the mundane.

The script, written by Tati back in 1956, is said to be a lamentation about not being around enough for his daughter. And lanky, high-nosed, and Chaplin-ish, the magician Jean-Claude has been faithfully drawn in the Tati mould by the animators.

In Paris during what appears to be the Fifties, he is a hanger-on from the days of music halls and matinee magic shows. As a new era of entertainment takes hold, our illusionist is nudged out of venues and forced to take odd jobs at weddings and the like. In one stunning sequence, he journeys to a Scottish island for a gig in a fishing village. There, he happens upon young Edith, who thinks he really has magical powers.

Enchanted, she decides to follow Jean-Claude to a gorgeously interpreted Edinburgh. While the relationship is as innocent as she is young, he cannot help but spoil her to keep the illusion alive. With work drying up, his devotion to getting her started in life quickly has him out of pocket.

The Illusionist is to be more admired for the visual feast it throws up rather than its resonance as a timeless fable. Bar a few hushed lines of French, English and Scots-Gaelic, this, like most of Tati's films, is action-based storytelling.

The movements and expressions of the brilliantly rendered characters communicate the film's message with humour and sparkle. Meanwhile, London, Paris and Edinburgh are all lovingly recreated with a keen eye on architecture and the era's changing attitudes.

The Illusionist is now showing

HAW

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