The Perks of Being a Wallflower
A coming-of-age confessional is a good place for Emma Watson to try out a Hollywood lead for the first time since Harry Potter.
Now 22, the beautiful starlet of that globe-gobbling franchise will want to prove to herself as much as everyone else that her career post-Potter will be more Harrison Ford than Mark Hamill.
Stephen Chbosky directs this adaptation of his own 1999 source novel, and while it carries some niggling imperfections, he doesn't appear to have been let down by Watson or the rest of the young cast.
Logan Lerman takes centre stage as Charlie, who is quiet, bookish and recovering from a friend's suicide.
Being a freshman in high school is tough but he gravitates towards howling extrovert Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Patrick's half-sister Sam (Watson).
They take Charlie under their wing, easing his awkwardness and opening his eyes to the thrills, spills and bellyaches of early-Nineties adolescence.
The trio form a tight bond, one tested by Charlie's mammoth-sized crush on Sam, diverging college pathways and some unspecified trauma in Charlie's childhood.
Perks is probably well-timed to appeal to Potter fans who, like Watson, are now a little more grown-up. It is a sentimental and gooey take on 'cool' -- Sonic Youth, David Bowie and The Smiths rock the soundtrack while characters profess their steadfast friendship to each other.
It starts to feel like an episode of The Wonder Years with mental illness and soft drug abuse, and wavers tonally when things take a sharp left turn in the finale.
Watson, Lerman and Paul Rudd (playing Charlie's supportive English master) are all commendable, but Miller, so mesmerising in last year's We Need To Talk About Kevin, steals the show.
Liam Neeson's transformation into the new Chuck Norris continues apace with this wholly unnecessary follow-up to 2008's fun-but-formulaic Taken.
Ballymena's favourite son has become an unlikely go-to man for an uber-manly good guy to take out the baddies.
Produced by Luc Besson and helmed by Colombiana director Olivier Megaton, Taken 2 picks up a year after the events of the first installment, which saw meticulous ass-whooper Bryan Mills (Neeson) mete out bone-crunching revenge on the Albanian nasties who kidnapped his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).
Kim's driving test and her new boyfriend are the only headaches in Bryan's world these days, until he, Kim and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) have their Istanbul holiday interrupted by more of those shady characters.
These are led by dastardly crime boss Rade Serbedzija, who wants to get back at Bryan for killing his son in the first film. Bryan and Lenore are taken this time, and when the big man assures Kim on the phone that he will figure something out, you're left in no doubt the Albanians have made a big mistake.
Taken 2 is preposterous, not just in its outlandishness but also in its treatment of foreign climes. Istanbul is a hurdy-gurdy maze where no one minds grenades being let off and everyone looks greasy and suspiciously un-American. Diplomacy, along with neat dialogue, originality or tension, has been set aside in favour of cheesy tough talk and by-numbers plotting. Neeson lumbers around like a scorned Labrador, growling at everything and trampling over the legacy of Schindler's List and Kinsey. Mind you, he manages to rein it in for the mawkish ending.
The imaginary friend has a long and respectable history in cinema, and there is also undeniable potential in a romantic comedy that's based on a horror premise. Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a writer who has been blocked for a decade since his amazing debut at 19. He has a dog with gender issues and a go-getting brother (Chris Messina) but few friends. He also seems to fancy Zooey Deschanel, as when his therapist (Elliot Gould) recommends he write about his dog, he constructs the Zooey-alike Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), a kooky, arty gal with purple tights, and a weakness for the underdog.
Ruby first appears in his dreams then in his kitchen and, after a short spell thinking he's nuts, Calvin discovers she is real. He locks away the manuscript from which Ruby was conjured, sealing her perfection. But when she starts to display worryingly independent thoughts Calvin realises he can change that with a bash on his typewriter.
It's written by its star Zoe Kazan, who is Dano's real-life partner, and the film is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who made Little Miss Sunshine -- a couple, directing a couple, playing a couple. And although lacking the subversion of Little Miss Sunshine, it is full of interesting ideas. Perhaps too many at times.
The retro styling, the typewriter, the soundtrack and Bogart films feels contrived and lends an unhelpful superficiality. While being reminiscent of early Woody Allen, it fails in that Calvin, although just as self-obsessed as any Woody Allen character has none of the self-awareness. Kazan does a good job delivering all of Ruby's many moods and Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas do a pleasingly OTT job of playing his mother and stepfather.
It doesn't deliver quite what it sets out to and it's too long but it's sometimes clever, sometimes funny and very watchable.
Out on October 12
Resident Evil: Retribution
There are those who'd argue the value of one Resident Evil film, let alone five. Nonetheless, here we are, 10 years after the first instalment of the video-game adaptation, being assaulted once again by hordes of viral zombies. Let's hope this is definitely the last lap because we can't take too much more.
For those who missed out on the previous four Hitchcock-style masterworks, the back story is helpfully detailed in the prologue by ice-cool heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich). Once that's out of the way, we have a dream sequence that sees Alice in an idyllic suburban family life until the killer zombies turn up. When she awakes, she is being held in a vast underwater facility by the Umbrella Corporation.
Lo and behold, a mysterious power failure makes good her escape from the cell. In a jiffy, she's fastened all 170 buckles on her lycra jumpsuit and is ready to save humanity from the all-powerful bio-weaponry corporation. She warms up the muscles by felling a small village worth of zombies before meeting the absurdly attired Ada (Li Bingbing) who is part of a rescue team seeking to overthrow Umbrella with Alice's help. And off they go.
If you're the kind of person who spends whole weekend's clutching a joypad with the curtains drawn, you may find passing amusement in the video-gamey stages and CGI monsters. For everyone else, Retribution is this year's undisputed cinematic nadir. The action is cod-Matrix tedium and director Paul WS Anderson has settled for a class of acting that makes you gasp in horror. No retribution would be sufficient.
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