Cinema: Guardians of the Galaxy as heros lead the way
Reviewed are Guardians of the Galaxy, God's Pocket, The Nut Job, Hide Your Smiling Faces, Mood Indigo, Planes: Fire and Rescue.
Marvel Comics' prolific output continues with this latest franchise launch. James Gunn has been charged with co-writing and directing Guardians, and true to his previous work, it is a less deadly-serious hero who leads the way. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt channelling Han Solo) prefers to be known as StarLord, a moniker that has yet to catch on. Half-human and half-alien, he travels the universe looking to make a quick buck and as the story begins he's in trouble with his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker)
Quill is a big fan of 1970s and 1980s music and the opening scene, a Raiders of the Lost Ark homage, is cleverly subverted with one such track. He discovers an orb whose true value he only gradually realises because it is sought by goodies and baddies alike. This ultimately unites the motley crew that become the Guardians. Quill joins with Gamora (Zoe Saldana gets to be green instead of Avatar blue), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel) and GM raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) against Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) and uber baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin). It's not that they mean to guard the galaxy, it just happens.
These are the underachieving counterpoints to the Avengers, and although pared down from the comics it is still a bit too busy with some characters underused, like Benicio de Toro (enunciating carefully but still hard to understand) as a kind of Liberace. Glenn Close and John C Reilly will presumably be better used in the sequels. For there will be sequels.
The two hours feel a bit long but the effects are fantastic and the humour carries it. It's got plenty of sci-fi violence and a surprisingly risque vocab in places. Even without that it's not suitable for very young children who couldn't follow the plot, it's aimed more at those aged over 10 and above. Way above, no kid is going to get the Kevin Bacon/Footloose references.
The opening scene in God's Pocket, a funeral that follows an untimely death, is all the more poignant for one of the chief mourners being played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In one of the final performances before his untimely death, he plays Mickey Scarpato, whose stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) has died. Leon's mother (Christina Hendricks) does not believe that it was an accident. Mickey is more concerned with funding the funeral while his wife turns to a journalist (Richard Jenkins).
In his directorial debut, John Slattery does a good job creating the sense of late 1970s depression in a run-down, tough community in Philadelphia but the own-worst-enemy factor largely overrides the humour. The film is based on Pete Dexter's 1983 novel which almost described contemporary events. For a film to work as nostalgia they need to tell stories specific to that time, which is partly why American Hustle worked so well. If not they can they can stray into cliche and unfortunately, God's Pocket crosses that line. However the cast is very good but mostly it's a reminder of what the cinema lost in Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Nut Job
You win some and you lose some and The Nut Job, one of this summer's animated offerings for smaller children is not one of the winners. Winter is coming to Oakton, a fictional American town in the 1950s, and the animals of Liberty Park have not stored enough food. Surly the cranky squirrel (Will Arnett) is not unduly bothered for anyone else, but after one plan goes awry and he is banished to the city with his faithful rat Buddy, he makes a deal with park do-gooder Andie (Katherine Heigl) for a stash of nuts in a shop. But there is a complication in the form of some thieves planning a heist.
The cast includes Brendan Fraser as the park beefcake and Maya Rudolf as a pug sidekick. The 3D animation works but the plot twists are confusing for little children and the humour, mostly slapstick and nut jokes, often fails to land where it intended. My five-year-old reviewer got a few laughs, and at an hour and half the film is not too long. The Korean co-production featured an animated Psy singing Gangnam Style at the end, which went down a treat.
Hide Your Smiling Faces
Flying in the face of every notion that the more time children spend outdoors, the better, Hide Your Smiling Faces pastes a very modern teen angst into the Huckleberry Finn-like backdrop of the leafy New Jersey riverlands. If only they had a nice computer game to keep them indoors, you find yourself saying, as Eric (Nathan Varson) and his younger brother Tommy (Ryan Jones) venture off daily into a jungle of fear and loathing.
It's rather grim watching them mope around in the aftermath of finding one of the boys in their neighbourhood dead by the riverside. They pick and play with dead animals they happen across and wrestle inanely with other local lads. There are no girls their own age, and adults take the form of either strange automatons that struggle to communicate on their level, or malevolent spirits such as the dead boy's father (our own Colm O'Leary).
Cinematographer Daniel Patrick Carbone is economical in terms of screenplay, instead making his feature debut an exercise in aesthetic and mood. His young charges do very well with so little in the way of a traceable narrative structure but even they seem bored at times. For all the enigmatic sounds and sights provided, the overall effect is underwhelming.
The overriding expectation throughout is that this will eventually mould itself into some kind of coming-of-age tale, one where the beleagured brothers locate solace from out of their lot, yet that junction never arrives. It closes just as it all begins, with humdrum shots of Tommy killing time in a gloomy afternoon, dawdling much like the film does when it doesn't have some sombre gothic imagery to show us.
The fact that it goes against the generic template of similiar fare such as Stand By Me or The Giants is not in itself something to be derided. It's just that we have these things called narrative arcs, whereby whatever we're watching, we want to see the protagonists finish in a different place to where they started. Hide Your Smiling Faces is too busy choosing between fly-on-the-wall starkness or meditative, cinematic silk to remember this. That is its undoing.
IFI and selected cinemas
Editor's Pick: Mood Indigo
Calling Michel Gondry films "surreal" is a little like describing Jedward as "rather outgoing". Yes, there are auteurs and then there are the likes of Gondry, who bleeds himself dry with each arts-and-crafts explosion that he releases in moviehouses, veering with typically Gallic contrariness between genius (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and shambolic (The Green Hornet).
Your enjoyment of Mood Indigo will hinge on your appreciation for Gondry's craft as a filmmaker rather than how you get on with its "non-plot" - Colin (Romain Duris) meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou), Chloe gets ill, Colin does all he can to save her. Of course, with Gondry it's all about the trimmings, the prism through which he views the affairs of two characters in Boris Vian's 1947 novel Froth On The Daydream. And this is as wondrous a spectacle as medium-budget cinema can offer these days.
Gondry takes a hatchet to the mise en scene rulebook - limbs elongate seamlessly, inanimate objects come to life and Chloe's illness is, of course, "a water lily growing in her lung". Shreds of the real world get carried in on the breeze here and there, but even these will get infected by kooky dialogue ("I demand to fall in love") and cartoonish set pieces. You curse those distracting subtitles drawing your gaze away from the marvel.
In their second on-screen partnership this year (after Chinese Puzzle), Duris and Tautou (pictured) thrive inside the whirligig, both puppets dancing deftly at the end of Gondry's strings. You're never in doubt, therefore, about whose show this is. His cup of imagination may overflow at times and he risks losing control on the tight dramatic bends but Gondry in fifth gear is a sight to behold.
In selected cinemas
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Having easily clocked up the requisite number of air smiles with the original Planes, it was only ever a matter of time before a sequel would be cleared for take-off. Understandably, Disney has played it safe with Planes: Fire & Rescue, the Roberts Gannaway-directed follow-up. Having cemented his place in the aviation annals with his sky-scraping heroics in the original, the Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook) we encounter during the opening scenes is dicing with the type of downward spiral that could see him permanently grounded.
He's been welcomed back with open arms, sorry, wings, by his friends in Propwash Junction but there's a spanner in the works. Dusty is due to be the star attraction at Propwash's annual Cornfest but his eye-popping stunts have left him in need of a replacement engine and, you guessed it, those type of specs aren't easily replicated.
And if that wasn't enough to be going on with, Dusty's attempts to show he still has what it takes precipitates a chain of events that results in a relocation to Piston Peak and a reinvention as an aerial firefighter. But can Dusty convince firefighting supremo Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and his team of firefighting homies that he hasn't lost his mojo? All is revealed when disaster strikes in the shape of a raging inferno that threatens the resort of "Fusil Lodge."
As is to be expected, Planes 2: Fire & Rescue unashamedly targets the tots but there are enough examples of silly deadpun humour to keep accompanying adults on board for the duration. Despite the impressive visuals, a lack of overall wow-factor confirms the sense of a franchise that is losing altitude.
Sunday Indo Living