Saturday 10 December 2016

Stylish, shallow, with the hallmark of 'her Madjesty'

Published 23/01/2012 | 06:00

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W.E.

Cert: 16

Marriage to Guy Ritchie and life in one of Wiltshire's more stately piles may have ended sadly for Madonna, but it's easy to imagine her using the experience as inspiration for her second offering as a director, W.E. The main story unfolds against the backdrop of what's billed as the "greatest love story of the 20th century", the well-documented romance between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson, played by James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough respectively. But in a clear and successful attempt to sex up that particular dossier, that storyline is intertwined with a contemporary one, involving Abbie Cornish as a New York socialite with a Wallis Simpson obsession.

Repeated visits to a Sotheby's auction of Windsor memorabilia in New York have prompted a bout of soul- searching on the part of Wally Winthrop (Cornish) as getting so close to the spirit of her idol causes her to re-evaluate her unhappy marriage to a philandering shrink, played by Richard Coyle. Her alienation levels aren't helped by the frisson she experiences with Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a thoughtful Russian intellectual/security guard she encounters at the auction.

Faster than you can say 'what would Wallis Simpson do?', we're back in the Thirties as the major events that culminated in the abdication of King Edward VIII are played out in a pristine and visually impeccable manner. As you would expect from a film directed by her "Madjesty", let's face it, the style icon's style icon, the film's look is consistently dazzling. It's fair to say that couture has rarely been this haute.

W.E was obviously a labour of love for Madonna and her familiarity with the subject matter shines through in what is always a compelling spectacle. Judged by the highest standards, there is a slight lack of depth and the connection established between the past and present is both tenuous and wayward at times. Polished performances, however, and sumptuous production values combine to create an end product that is stronger than expected, given the undeserved critical mauling W.E. was subjected to in the US.

Now Showing

J Edgar

Cert: 15A

Since his death in 1972, history has painted long-running FBI chief J Edgar Hoover as a notorious and controversial figure during his 40-year reign at the agency. Character assassination, blackmail and harassment are believed to have been his favoured methods of maintaining homeland security, while many also believe the chief with the funny voice was a closet homosexual and cross-dresser.

This new biopic, directed by Clint Eastwood, is heavy on narration (we meet Hoover in his later years as he relays his life story to a biographer) and too reliant on Leonardo DiCaprio's central turn.

J Edgar is a film to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Some of it is undeniably engaging; Hoover's pioneering of fingerprinting and forensics, his strange, asexual demeanour and his relationship with his mother (Judi Dench) are such curiosities. But where's the nabbing of infamous bankrobber John Dillinger? Where are all the decent human lives he destroyed through his power-fed paranoia? Filming in muted browns and greys, Eastwood flits from past to 'present' cleverly, but doesn't involve us enough in a 'story' you come to feel.

Bar his whiny enunciation, DiCaprio is hard to fault, his performance sharing some of the DNA that fuelled Meryl Streep's recent Thatcher impersonation. Unfortunately, Armie Hammer, playing Clyde Tolson, Hoover's 'are-they-aren't-they' right-hand man and companion, is hamstrung in the old-age scenes by some ludicrous makeup.

HAW

Now showing

A Monster in Paris

Cert: U

Set during the Paris floods of 1910, A Monster In Paris starts with Emile (Jay Harrington) a shy cinema projectionist who takes a lift with delivery entrepreneur Raoul (Adam Goldberg). Seeing his scientist client at the Botanical Gardens is away, Raoul has a little go at his science gear. A couple of kabooms later and a giant flea, with a lovely singing voice, is born. Occasional sightings lead to hysteria. There is a monster in Paris.

Meanwhile, star of the stage Lucille (Vanessa Paradis) is being wooed by the would-be star of the Mairie, Maynott (Danny Huston), who sees in the capture of the creature a shoo-in to office. The creature takes to stalking the city like Darkman, all cloak and tilted hat. Lucille takes him in, names him Francoeur and discovers his talent for music (Sean Lennon sings the part.) Alliances are forged in the pursuit and defence of Francoeur.

Bibi Bergeron directed Shark Tale and The Road to Eldorado and wrote and directed here. Made in 2009, it is only now getting an English language release. Very French in lots of ways, and aimed fairly and squarely at a young audience, its lack of layers to both story and character, combined with the far-fetched plot, made it feel like a fairytale. With the trotting plot and singing and dancing, it's a sweet film.

AOC

Opens Friday

The Sitter

Cert: 15A

What was Sam Rockwell thinking? Jonah Hill was probably just pleased to get a chance to headline, a wrong call, The Sitter is a backward step in his career. But he'll learn. It's Sam Rockwell, what was he thinking?

Noah (Hill) is a college drop-out who lives with his mother and loves a girl who uses him (Ari Graynor). Roped in to babysitting three children, he regrets the decision all the more when Marisa calls and invites him to a party, if he can bring some drugs.

So Noah pops the three tweens in the people carrier and heads into New York to buy drugs and have sex. It goes wrong. Part of what goes wrong is a drug dealer on steroids (Rockwell).

Good points? Noah is basically kind, Hill plays it fine. The commentary about the children, the celebrity- obsessed, over-sexualised nine- year-old Blithe (Landry Bender) the passed-around trophy adoptee Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) and the medicated Slater (Max Records) are neither deep nor original, but they are true.

AOC

Now showing

The Darkest Hour (3D)

Cert: 15

It's almost a relief to discover that the alien invaders that populate doomsday thriller The Darkest Hour arrived seeking to plunder the Earth's natural mineral resources. It's pretty clear by the time the credits roll on this misfiring Chris Gorak-directed feature that if they'd come seeking signs of intelligent life, they would have left disappointed.

Moscow provides the primary backdrop as Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella take the central roles of Sean and Ben, two American whizz-kids who travel to the Russian capital seeking finance for their latest internet start-up. Things don't go according to plan.

Betrayed by the actions of a treacherous business partner they set about drowning their sorrows in a local nightclub where they meet up with a couple of fellow-American cuties, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor).

Just when it's beginning to look as if the trip to Moscow might not have been in vain after all, proceedings take a turn for the post-apocalyptic. The post-attack wasteland is brilliantly realised and the big-buck production values ensure The Darkest Hour does deliver some impressive visual 3D thrills.

These positives, however, never come close to compensating for the cardboard cut-out characterisation and the dead-beat dialogue.

Now showing

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