Reviews: What If, The Expendables 3, The Congress, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Dinosaur 13
What If Cert 15A By all accounts, the post-Potter period has been less than er.. spellbinding for Hogwarts alumnus cum laude, Daniel Radcliffe. Widely reported difficulties with booze and numerous gloomy and morose interviews means it has often been more a case of Daniel Sadcliffe than Daniel Radcliffe.
Accordingly, it's easy to imagine that the role he plays in punchy, Toronto and Dublin-based romcom, What If, wasn't that a much of a stretch. Radcliffe plays Wallace, a Toronto-based ex-pat dealing with a terminal case of bad-relationship blues.
It's been a year since his ex cheated on him but signs of closure are decidedly scarce.
He's clearly a card-carrying member of the hell-is-other-people fraternity but "lonely-guy" attendance at films like The Princess Bride suggests his heart is still in the right place. It's at one such screening that he meets quirky, fellow-anti-socialite, Chantry (Zoe Kazan).
Their paths crossed a few nights earlier but Chantry's revelation that she was in a relationship put the kibosh on any hopes of a connection.
They decide to become friends but feelings develop and faster than you can say love-triangle alert, complications arise.
Likeable performances from the main players and a strong script help ensure proceedings stay the right side of cheesy for the duration.
All concerned acquit themselves admirably but Radcliffe steals the show in the central role. Does someone still have access to magic potions because on this evidence a star is reborn. Well at least revitalised.
Opens Aug 22nd
EDITOR'S PICK: The Congress Cert 15A
F Scott Fitzgerald may have believed there are no second acts in American life but on the evidence of the dramatic opening scenes in futuristic satire, The Congress, the same rules don't apply in sci-fi. Playing herself as an ageing actress fighting a rearguard action against diminishing drawing power, a striking Robin Wright is offered an antidote to the showbiz anonymity that her long-time agent, Al (Harvey Keitel) believes to be imminent.
All is not lost. Al has brokered a deal which will involve Wright being digitally scanned and her essence and physical characteristics preserved. For the length of the contract, she will have no influence over roles in which this new, virtual, I-can't-believe-it's-not Robin Wright character is cast.
So far, so sci-fi? You ain't seen nothing yet. Proceedings take a turn for the completely surreal twenty years later when Wright shows up at Miramount's annual congress hoping to negotiate a new contract. Access to this gathering can only be achieved by consuming a vial of liquid that transports the user into a cartoon world that almost defies description. I've never taken an acid tab but after watching the trippy kaleidoscope of colour delivered here, I suspect I don't need to.
Directed with admirable innovation by Ari Folman, The Congress is a film of two halves. With Hollywood heavyweights like Wright and Keitel operating at the top of their considerable game, the first is full of depth. The psychedelic second section derails the finished product somewhat but it's never less than absorbing. Cult classics have evolved from less.
Hector and the search for happiness Cert 15A
As Hector, Simon Pegg starts well; he applies gravity and restraint as he pours himself into the role of a disillusioned London psychiatrist. As the film continues, his performance deteriorates and Pegg mugs and buffoons his way on autopilot as he bluffs his way through the role of a disillusioned London psychiatrist.
This is the central annoyance of Hector And The Search For Happiness, where in the flick of a scene, the bafflingly celebrated English comic actor switches from sedate and measured to his usual snub-nosed clowning, tripping over anything that isn't tied down and gooning his way across a theme-park take on the globe.
It's a shame because if you deleted Pegg and the script's self-help shtick - man gets lost to find himself amid an array of cultural stereotypes - there is some feel-good fluff to be had at the core of Peter Chelsom's film.
Adapted from the 2002 novel by French psychiatrist François Lelord, Hector… is, however, designed for the type of people who indulge in fair-weather hippydom when they travel, swapping brand labels and cocktail bars for hemp clothing and new-age philosophy.
Any class supplied by its envious supporting cast of Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer is threatened at every turn by crass, lazy reductions of the countries Hector jets into.
A whole continent even gets simplified into a generic setting referred to only as 'Africa'.
An insult to lovers of travel.
The Expendables 3 Cert 12A
There is something entirely appropriate about the fact that the latest Sly Stallone bombs and bullets extravaganza, The Expendables 3, begins with a massive train-wreck. Both literally and metaphorically it sets the perfect tone for much of what is to follow in this enjoyable if terminally inane affair. Those familiar with the previous two franchise offerings will know the formula. Gather as many ageing Hollywood A-listers as you can afford, arm them to the teeth and release the bombs and big explosions.
The narrative this time involves the least expendable expendable Barney Ross (Stallone) being forced to reappraise his options after a botched mission in Somalia convinces him his regulars, the likes of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) might be over-the-hill in terms of all round cojones capability.
Faster than you can say pot meet kettle, Barney has "pulled the plug" on his original team and put out the call for a few good young men and a token woman. His CIA handler (Harrison Ford) is livid about what happened in Somalia and uber-baddie, Conrad Stonebanks (a convincing Mel Gibson), remains America's most wanted. Can these new killing machines seal the deal or will Barney discover that a helping of humble pie is in order around his decision to disband his original crew? All roads lead to an extreme smackdown in eastern Europe and scenes that could double as an infomercial for the global armaments industry.
Stallone, these days, makes post-fight Rocky Balboa look like an oil painting but he still has the moves and maintains his likeable tongue 'n cheek persona for the duration. Under Patrick Hughes' direction, The Expendables 3 doesn't take itself too seriously. You shouldn't either. Just don't forget the popcorn.
Dinosaur 13 Cert Club
Lawsuits, a dinosaur called "Sue", and the Sioux people of the US state of Dakota all collide with assonance, style and intrigue in this effective documentary about passions falling foul of red tape and bureaucratic skulduggery.
Over a brisk 100 or so minutes, Dinosaur 13 tells of Peter Larson and his fossil-hunting associates in the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. In 1990, Larson's team found, unearthed and painstakingly collected the 13th T Rex skeleton ever to be discovered by man. "Sue", as she was named (after one of the dig's principal finders) was the largest and most complete specimen of its kind, meaning that once word got around, surrounding interests would come circling looking for a slice of the priceless 65million-year-old cashcow.
Two years after the find, as Larson and co were still cleaning and preparing the specimen for display, the FBI and National Guard turned up at the Institute's door in South Dakota and confiscated Sue under the premise that the institute had been stealing fossils from state-owned lands. Into the fold come shifty landowners, native-American tribes, local politicians and prominent metropolitan museums.
At the receiving end of some startling intimidation tactics and corrupt manoeuvres was the obsessive Larson, who cared only about getting Sue back and on display in the economically downtrodden village of Black Hills. Eventually, he would do jail time over the fiasco. Todd Miller's handsome and well-structured documentary sets the stage with an affectionate reminder to older viewers why every child marvels over the idea of dinosaurs. From then on, however, Sue herself becomes something of a McGuffin, a conduit for passion and greed that is kept boxed up in the background.
When she is finally released to a jaw-dropping auction hall in Chicago, we are no longer thinking about Jurassic Park, the wonders of palaeontology or how many triceratops burgers T Rex ate for dinner. It is now only the petty behaviour of man that we are forced to contemplate. Yet another fine documentary outing for 2014.
At Light House Cinema