Saturday 16 December 2017

All-action angels fail to soar



Cert 16

ON the one hand you have to admire the unshackled, or maybe just ramshackle, ambition behind Legion. On the other, it's a rehash of a very old story with lots of cliches thrown in.

Essentially, God is very disappointed with the way we've been running things and is sending in his army to call time on our reign. But the angel Michael (Paul Bettany) thinks God is making a mistake and aims to give his lord "what he needs rather than what he wants". This involves making a stand in a desert and deserted diner where Bob (Dennis Quaid) is whiling away his lost life with his gentle son Jeep (Lucas Black) who is hung up on the eight-months-pregnant bad girl Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). Together with some random customers, they will join Michael's fight for humanity, but there is nothing random about the choice of people or location, that's not just any baby Charlie's expecting.

What results is a strange mix of zombie movie, action flick and morality tale, with a cast of predictable characters including the formerly bad young black guy, the older Bible-quoting black guy and the soulless wealthy white couple. Angels in movies are often conflicted characters (Damon, Affleck and Rickman in Dogma, Travolta in Michael, Walken in Prophecy, Ganz in Wings of Desire) so Paul Bettany's Michael, who is tattooed and tough but moral, isn't that odd. The other representations are peculiar, however, and detract from the basic premise.

Writer-director Scott Stewart has his own special effects company, so there are lots of those and they're good. The script, though, is pretty poor. The big-action pieces work fine, the talky moral bits really don't. The acting is generally good and there are a few jumpy moments. Overall not a great film, peculiar but watchable if you're not too picky and your preferences run to action fantasy.


Legion opens on Friday

Extraordinary Measures

Cert PG

YOU don't have to be a parent to properly appreciate the heroism at the heart of Extraordinary Measures, but I suspect it's likely to accentuate this inspirational film's emotional impact.

Based on a true story, and starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, proceedings focus on the Crowley family and their race against time to find a cure for Pompe, a distressing illness that afflicted two of their children, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velazquez). As depicted here, Pompe is a progressive disorder that mirrors the symptoms of muscular dystrophy and lowers life expectancy to the point that its victims rarely see their ninth birthday.

Fraser takes the role of John Crowley, a corporate kingpin dad who wasn't willing to accept that terminal prognosis. Rejecting medical advice to accept the inevitable, he embarks on a one-man crusade to find a cure. An internet trawl results in an audience with eccentric genius Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford), a beer-drinking, truck-driving Nebraska-based scientist who believes he has the formula that can extend Megan and Patrick's lives.

The tetchy Stonehill undoubtedly has the brilliance but lacks the business smarts to put his theories into practice. Having met Crowley's adorable kids however, Stonehill is moved sufficiently by the family's plight to unite with Crowley in forming a biotech start-up in the hope that his theories can be advanced to the point of being accepted for clinical trial. As Stonehill remarks, it's the ultimate "Hail Mary play" but the fate of Crowley's children depend on its outcome.

Starter for Ten director Tom Vaughan's approach plays fast and loose with the facts that inspired this story -- Ford's character is a composite -- but not to the extent that credibility is fatally compromised. Ford and The Mummy franchise veteran Fraser have both been better but their patchy performances don't detract from a spectacle that is redeemed by a sense that its heart is very much in the right place.


Extraordinary Measures is now showing

Everybody's Fine

Cert: PG

WALT Disney Studios discards the schmaltz and "apple-pie America" for this slow-burning drama about Frank Goode (Robert De Niro), a lonely father facing his elusive offspring. The tale is adapted from Stanno Tutti Bene, Giuseppe Tornatore's 1990 Cannes winner. Waking Ned director Kirk Jones replaces the strong operatic theme of the original with recurring motifs of nation-spanning telegraph lines and transportation.

After he is stood up by his four non-communicative children, Frank sets off across the States to see how their lives are shaping up and finds that all is not well. De Niro, an actor desperately in need of a reason to remain relevant, makes a credible hang-dog dad, sighing and grumbling but achingly vulnerable.

If we leave De Niro aside for a moment, we're left with a very likeable cast. The fetching Kate Beckinsale is the over-achiever with a collapsing marriage but everything money can buy. Sam Rockwell is his usual scruffy, flaky self, but steps into the shoes of an undemanding concert percussionist with ease. Meanwhile, Drew Barrymore is picture perfect as the cuddly one, all smiles and hugs but somehow lost.

Everybody's Fine is unlikely to ravage awards season, but there is an uncomplicated and natural tone to the film that does it a great service. Hugs with the grown-up kids are awkward. The father looks for reasons to fret over his children, while they fib through the teeth to keep him from doing so. He takes snaps of his family when they're least wanted.

It's an age-old saga -- children flying the coop and being too busy for their adoring parents -- but the dynamic is usually the remit of comedies or sappy, self-righteous drama. Here, it is done with taste and charm.


Everybody's Fine is now showing

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