Wednesday 22 November 2017

Idiotic script turns thrill-less dream into nightmare

Film Reviews

Hilary A White and Padraic McKiernan

Dream House

Cert: 15A

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz got married after falling in love while shooting Dream House. Watching this abysmal thriller paint itself into a corner over a tedious hour and half, one can imagine the pair bonding on set, turning to each other for comfort as that sinking feeling grew stronger with each day of filming.

This is idle speculation on your reviewer's part. What we do know is Irish director Jim Sheridan, who has garnered several Oscar nods over the years, has formally disowned the film after Morgan Creek studios' interference altered the final cut. Regardless of what really went on, the damage is there for all to see.

Craig plays Will Atenton, a publisher taking early retirement to spend more time in his suburban house with perfect wife Libby (Weisz) and their two perfect daughters. But creepy looks from neighbour Naomi Watts, and the discovery that local teens are using his basement to re-enact the murders of the house's previous owners raise Will's suspicions. He snoops around and discovers that, lo and behold, he's actually a former psychiatric patient called Peter Ward who has invented this whole idyllic life in his mind. The murders had been those of Will/Peter's perfect family and in order to find the real killer, he'll have to re-enter his dream house and solve the puzzle.

From its idiotic dialogue to the cobbled-together screenplay and scarcity of atmosphere or thrills, Dream House has nothing going for it whatsoever, other than to highlight the apparent dangers of too many cooks to the cinematic broth. As for Craig and Weisz, well, they're probably the only ones to have something to show from such a regrettable situation.


Now showing


Cert: PG

If David Fincher's The Social Network taught us anything it's that even the geekiest of subjects can be dressed in fine celluloid garments. Moneyball observes the same theory. Despite being about baseball -- a game with little or no following this side of the Atlantic -- and particularly its backroom politics and machinations, it makes for a cerebral and quietly triumphant sports biopic.

It tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of Oakland Athletic baseball team. In 2001, Beane set about rebuilding his roster of players using sabermetrics in a bid to improve the side's fortunes on a tight budget. This system sees solid players, ignored by bigger teams for being misfits, drafted in on account of statistical ratings. Instructing him in all this and drawing the ire of the management's purist scouts is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics whizzkid with a less-than-athletic demeanour.

The posters boast Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright (Billy's beleaguered coach and his ex-wife, respectively), but they're given little to do. This is wholly a vehicle for Pitt, and while his acting style still involves much jaw-flexing, he captures Beane's superstitious but can-do attitude well. Hill's crossover from gross-out comedy to elegant drama is a fluid one. He makes for a gently forceful buttress for the film as a whole.

Director Bennet Miller spares us euro-weenies the pain of another bombastic, all-American sports movie by dimming the lights slightly, getting in Aaron Sorkin to write lyrical, witty dialogue and showing us very little footage of baseball actually being played. There's a faint whiff of Oscar-bait at times, but it's never overpowering.


Now showing

Take Shelter

Cert 15A

Cometh the hour... cometh the er... movie. Given current global anxiety levels, it won't come as a surprise to hear that a film titled Take Shelter comes with impeccable movie-as-a-metaphor-for-our-times credentials.

Degrees of identification will differ of course but if you're not in a position to empathise with the tribulations experienced by this film's central character, played memorably by Michael Shannon, you can consider yourself very fortunate indeed.

Filmed on an epic, Malick-esque scale in the Ohio heartlands, Shannon takes the central role as Curtis, a seemingly regular guy who works in a local quarry. Married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and father to a young deaf child, he's described in the opening scenes by a work buddy as having a "good life".

It doesn't last, alas, as storm clouds of both the literal and metaphorical variety are gathering. Disturbed sleep patterns are shown as the gateway that leads Curtis to the cusp of a psychological meltdown. Postcards from the apocalypse in the shape of dramatic imaginary visions of oil falling as rain, devastating tornadoes, and birds dropping dead from the sky encourage Curtis to take extreme measures to protect his family.

Naturally his strange behaviour has repercussion as friends and family start to worry that his grip on reality might be loosening. These concerns are exacerbated by his family's history of mental illness. Related in a manner that is consistently moving and poignant, Curtis seeks help for his condition. But is there help out there? And is what ails him paranoia or something more profound?

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter, is simply one of the best films you're ever likely to see. Shannon is mesmeric, while the increasingly ubiquitous Chastain confirms the buzz she's generating is well founded. The ending is likely to divide audiences but that is a minor quibble. A bona fide must see, Take Shelter has already been hailed in the US as an "American masterpiece". No arguments here.


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