Wednesday 26 October 2016

Movie reviews: Sisters, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie, The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room (2*, No Cert, IFI, 119mins)

Published 18/12/2015 | 07:00

Classic: 'The Peanuts Movie' doesn't stray far from tradition
Classic: 'The Peanuts Movie' doesn't stray far from tradition

Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases - Sisters, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie, and The Forbidden Room

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An English critic recently compared the screen presence of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to the Hope and Crosby double act, and this notion is not entirely fanciful. Ms. Fey and Ms. Poehler forged their comic alliance in the battlefield of live television. Both are veterans of the Saturday Night Live show, and they've performed literally hundreds of sketches and skits together. It shows: their coming timing is mesmerising, their interplay as easy and intimate as Bing and Bob's, and in Sisters (3*, 15A, 118 mins) makes what would otherwise have been a rather ordinary comedy watchable.

Siblings Kate (Fey) and Maura Ellis (Poehler) don't have a great deal in common. While Maura is a risk-averse and consequently single woman, Kate is a hard-partying single mom who doesn't seem to have accepted the fact that she's now in her 40s. The sisters rarely see eye to eye, but join forces when faced with a psychological calamity. After finding out that their elderly parents (Dianne Wiest, James Brolin) have decided to sell the family home, Kate and Maura descend like bats out of hell to defend their childhood haunt. And when they discover that the house is already sold, they decide to throw a huge party in their vacant home.

What starts as a comedy of manners soon becomes a wild farce, and the party high-jinks grow tiresome after a while. But Fey and Poehler's mutual understanding floats all boats, and Wiest and Brolin are good fun as parents who've grown so tired of their whining, needy daughters that they "fake-freeze" on Skype in a desperate attempt to end unwanted calls.

When I was a child, which was neither yesterday nor the day before that, Snoopy cartoons were regularly shown on television, jiggling line drawings of hyperactive beagles and squabbling, neurotic children. For all the simplicity of their design, the Charlie Brown animations seemed knowing and sophisticated, and threw childish themes into the Freudian soup of 1970s adulthood. They were funny, as was the newspaper column that had inspired them, which ran for almost 60 years and only ended with Charles Schultz's death in the year 2000.

Now, 15 years later, comes this animated feature film Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (3*, G, 93mins), and the question is what relevance Charles and his high-handed dog will have for today's iPad-savvy nippers. They won't have a clue who any of the characters are of course, but I can see no reason why kids won't warm to them.

In The Peanuts Movie, insecure schoolboy Charlie Brown is wandering around with a rain-cloud over his head when a pretty redhead moves in next door. He's in awe of her, and Charlie's sternest critic Lucy reckons he doesn't have a chance, but with the help of Snoopy, you never know.

The Peanuts Movie does not make the mistake of messing with a winning formula, and the animated characters remain pleasingly two-dimensional. And if the story's a bit thin for a feature-length movie, there are some lovely moments along the way.

Canadian film-maker Guy Maddin is one of those brave souls who plough their own distinctive artsy furrow. His films can be wildly inventive, touchingly personal, pompous, nonsensical, wilfully obtuse, and you get a little bit of all of that in The Forbidden Room (2*, No Cert, IFI, 119mins). A kind of love letter to the conventions of silent cinema, Forbidden Room also slyly deconstructs the tropes of movie storytelling. Stories start before disappearing into other ones, much in the manner of those Russian nesting dolls.

Characters flicker in and out of vignettes that are occasionally hilarious, more often tedious intellectual exercises, and while Mr. Maddin's visual experiments with bleached colours and jaded stock are quite beautiful at times, overall Forbidden Room feels like an art installation film on a never-ending loop.

Coming soon...

In the Heart of the Sea (Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy); Joy (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro); The Danish Girl (Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander).

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