Monday 27 January 2020

Chiller remake is no Thing to write home about


Padraic McKiernan, Hilary A White, Aine O'Connor

The Thing

Cert: 16

SO much for just letting sleeping dogs lie. The evidence suggested in sci-fi thriller The Thing is that a similar policy should be adopted with sleeping aliens.

Not that ace paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is sure of exactly what she's dealing with at a Norwegian research base in Antarctica. The request comes from a borderline crazy scientist, Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who views the discovery of a mysterious frozen "structure" deep in the Antarctic as potentially his ticket to "immortality".

An abandoned spaceship nearby offers hints of this structure's origins but it takes the results of a biopsy taken from this ice-bound entity, the Thing of the title, to prove that Dr Halvorson and his crew of Norwegian scientists have an alien on their hands.

Their celebrations prove to be premature, however, as this thing has a sting in its tail.

Not only does it prove to have a ravenous appetite for human memberabilia (as it were), but it also has the ability to take human form by generating a perfect replica of its victim. This makes it impossible for the last men and women standing, such as Lloyd and Carter (Joel Edgerton), to know who to trust and who's a deserving candidate for immolation -- death-by-flame-thrower being the only thing that puts manners on, eh.., the Thing.

Technically a prequel, director Matthijs Heijningen has delivered a gorefest that lacks the flair and suspense levels that characterised John Carpenter's Eighties original but contains enough of a terror threat to keep genre fans and excitable types enthused.

Uninspired CGI means this Thing lacks in the scare-stakes but an understated tongue-in-cheek tone helps maintain engagement levels. Unresolved gaps in the backstory remain, so this could yet be a taste of more things to come.


Now showing nationwide

Happy Feet 2

Cert: G

Screwball dialogue, old-fashioned musical numbers and a decent plot was all animators once needed to bring the animal kingdom to life for children. Young fuddy-duddies such as me were raised on such classics as The Jungle Book and Lady And The Tramp, which is why we find the blingy, contrived beat of the Happy Feet movies hard to dance to.

Mumble (Elijah Wood), Ramon (Robin Williams) and a host of other flightless birds with famous voices return for this sequel to the Oscar-winning original. Antarctica is shifting physically thanks to global warming, which has released a huge iceberg that shuts the penguins inside their peaceful valley. Mumble and his cloyingly cute progeny Erik are away while this happens so it falls to them to figure out a way to free everyone.

To pad out the spaces in between songs and action, there's a bizarre side story about two krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) who break from their gigantic shoal to try and climb up the food chain.

Tangibly real CGI animals doing X-Factor karaoke in the planet's harshest environment is the surreal part of this animation. Mind you, youngsters won't take issue with this or the fact that a Tosca aria is butchered in the process. After all, Happy Feet 2's raison d'etre is merely to provide something cute and picturesque. It's admittedly fantastic to look at -- but penning a storyline to go along with the visual orgy is what prevents this Warners production from joining the Pixar elite.


Now showing nationwide

Puss in Boots in 3D

Cert: G

Having pretty much milked the Shrek parts of Shrek dry over a decade and four films, Dreamworks is going down the prequel route. Shrek the Third co-director Chris Mills continues that film's psychological element with the back story of Puss in Boots. Antonio Banderas returns to purr his way through as the eponymous anti-hero but it turns out that if it wasn't for some childhood treachery on behalf of Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), el gato might not have become a bandit living his spaghetti western life.

As children, Puss and Humpty fantasised about magic beans but years of failed seeking have left Puss believing this is an urban myth. No sooner is he presented with evidence that the beans are not only real but in the possession of Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) than Humpty reappears. Begging forgiveness and with seductive bandida Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) he proposes that bygones be bygones and that they stage a bean heist. But can they be trusted?

Banderas has Puss the seductive feline down to a fine art by now and can more than carry the story. The script is good, funny and with enough little cheeky bits to amuse older kids and the film is excellently boy friendly. The 3D is good, not gimmicky, it doesn't run too long or get too deep and overall does what it promises and works as it should.


Opens Friday

The Big Year

Cert PG

Birdwatchers apparently prefer to be called "birders" and a true aficionado will go to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of their joy.

The ultimate length in this case is The Big Year -- an honour-based system where the winner is the one who sees the most species of bird in one calendar year. Stu (Steve Martin), Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) and Brad (Jack Black) are all devoted birders at assorted stages of crisis (late, mid- and no-life crisis). Each decides the time has come to make this their personal Big Year. Previous winner and record holder Bostick is the one to beat, but all three meet at various times over the year and friendships form amidst the rivalry.

David Frankel directs from a book (Mark Obsmascik's non-fiction account of his Big Year) rather than an original script but this doesn't do for birds what Marley and Me did for dogs. Each of the actors gives an entirely predictable performance with Wilson emerging as the only one attempting any actual acting. This in itself doesn't really matter, for depth is not what The Big Year aims for.

The film manages to convey almost no sense of passion, just a vague desire to beat Bostick. Steve Martin and Jack Black can't resist falling over a bit and pulling faces -- and there are a few laughs, despite (and not because of) the falling and grimacing and a nice trite lesson.

There's also an interesting set of cameos from Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, Rosamund Pike and Rashida Jones -- and it's all inoffensive and mild. It was probably a nice film to make (they travelled a lot so it looks good), but the end result isn't terribly exciting.


Now showing nationwide

We Have a Pope

Cert: PG

THE idea of a story set behind the scenes at the conclave of cardinals electing a pope is a good one. But sometimes a good idea isn't enough and We Have a Pope doesn't deliver.

The sitting pope dies and the conclave is called. A bad reporter misreports the view from the outside whilst inside the cardinals gather. Although presented in all their pomp they are swiftly humanised, essentially nice old men, most of whom desperately do not want the job of pope. They fidget while they're thinking, they look forward to doughnuts and sightseeing, they play cards and do jigsaws.

However the man who is elected pope, the out-of-nowhere contender feels anything but relaxed and has a panic attack as he is about to be announced to the world. While he has his crisis the cardinals remain sequestered, as does the psychoanalyst who is called in to help. But the pope they think is pacing his room has in fact run off.

Although watchable, it is too long. It is sometimes funny but the comedy is contrived.


In the IFI and on limited release

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