Cinema Reviews: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond
Reviewed this week are Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, A Fuller Life, The New Girlfriend, Poltergeist and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.
A dazzling golden-age smile from George Clooney here. A Spielbergian child's-eye perspective there. An old-fashioned film about the future coated liberally with Mouse House magic dust.
You can see what Disney and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) were trying to do with Tomorrowland: A World Beyond. The result, however, is a case of being a bit better on paper.
It looks and sounds full of smarts when it begins in a nifty and mysterious collision of Mad Men style and sophisticated sci-fi. Frank, a boy genius, smuggles himself into a 1960s time machine with the help of an enigmatic young girl and ends up in the far future (where he luckily grows to resemble Clooney). In the present, another gutsy savant called Casey (Britt Robertson) is surpassing her scientific potential and ambition when she finds a strange badge that zaps her to that future world temporarily. Said enigmatic girl turns up and leads her to Frank, living hermitically in the present day. The three set out to save the future from environmental disaster. Or is it the present? Pick one.
It's good fun. It unveils slowly, brewing protracted spells of intrigue and wonderment. There's silky CGI and Hugh Laurie is the archetypal Brit baddie. Bird excels once again at wink-wink humour and avoiding pompous tones.
But this may be a case of a film too clever, busy and principled for its own good. By the time the stakes are finally defined and we're headed to a clunky climax, the spirit and moxie it set out with have wilted. Which is frustrating.
The New Girlfriend
Although based loosely on a Ruth Rendell short story, there is more than a whiff of Almodovar in Francois Ozon's latest offering, The New Girlfriend (La Nouvelle Amie). An exploration of gender and sexuality in genteel surroundings, it touches on really interesting themes, albeit cutting a few narrative corners to get there. But the end does pretty much justify the means.
There is a 70s feel generated in the scene-setting montage that opens this film and the feeling persisted for me throughout thanks to the swooping score. But it is set in this century and seems rather appropriate for this very week in Ireland. Claire (Anais Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) are childhood friends whose lives travel in tandem until Laura dies, leaving behind a new baby and a devastated husband, David (Romain Duris).
Struggling with her own grief, Claire initially avoids David and the baby until her handsome, boring, stalwart husband Gilles (Raphael Personnaz) pushes her to make contact. Dropping by to David's house unannounced she is shocked to discover him dressed as a woman. But her horror gives way to curiosity and this in turn leads her to ask all kinds of questions of herself. Many issues come up, not just about gender and sexuality but about the nature of secrecy and privacy within couples. Although some of the plot links are weak it worked well on the messiness of emotion that we work so hard to keep ordered. Duris' performance is really great, Demoustier, too, shines, and although his role is a bit thankless, Personnaz also delivers so there are three characters that we care about in this interesting mess.
IFI and selected cinemas
A Fuller Life
Sam Fuller was one of the great mavericks of US cinema, forging a unique career at a unique time. In this documentary about him, his daughter Samantha documents his life lovingly but not mawkishly, breaking it into 12 chapters. Each chapter is visually crafted from private photos, news footage and film archives and most are narrated via passages of his autobiography by a star of one of his films.
The film ranges from Fuller's early days as a copy boy in New York in the 1920s, via his freelance wanderings through an America deep in depression and his first encounter with the KKK, though the focus is most intense on his time in World War Two, fighting in France, surviving against the odds, losing friends, liberating Falkenau concentration camp and the enormous impression it would make on the man and his work forever after. Leading, eventually, to his magnum opus The Big Red One.
The documentary is a wonderful tribute to the man that Sam Fuller was, it explains very well how he became what he became and why.
There is also some previously unseen footage, shot when he was in the army during the war and charged with documenting what they did.
It is, perhaps, less strong on Fuller the film-maker but this is not a criticism, especially as any fan could make that doc but only his daughter can tell a story so personal, it's just an FYI.
Now showing at the IFI
The 1982 version of Poltergeist was a staple of the parties I went to in early secondary school, where someone might rent a video recorder from a shop specially for the occasion. Some very flash people actually owned the VCRs. We liked horror films, and the original Poltergeist was, unlike Friday the 13th, creepy rather than gory.
Gil Kenan's remake aims to stick with creepy, ticking off lots of horror staples on its way to repackaging the plot for this century. Happy family, tick. Nervous child, tick. Creepy clowns, tick. Busy string section in score, check. This time round, the action centres on Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) who, following a redundancy, are forced to downsize.
They have three children, mopey teen Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), nervous son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and cute six-year-old Mattie (Kennedi Clements). For reasons only the makers of horror films would understand, the already anxious son is given the attic room with the scary noises and freaky skylight.
Though the parents worry if the boy needs to see a shrink, they leave him to his anxiety, which thoughtfully provides some red herrings, whilst failing to notice that the six-year-old has discovered some people to chat to in her wardrobe and the TV. They are good people, it's just a horror film.
At a dinner party the parents hear that their estate is built on an old graveyard, about the same time their children, home alone, come under attack from everything from toys to trees. Mattie goes missing, they don't call the police, admittedly "My daughter is in the TV" could be difficult to prove, instead calling on a paranormal investigations unit. They in turn, upon diagnosing a poltergeist, call in Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).
To be fair the entire cast give it socks and much of it is clearly intended to be tongue in cheek. This is horror light, an hour and a half long, absolutely the kind of thing that young teens could watch without looking under their beds for years afterwards (which I did after seeing Friday the 13th.) The only people it will seriously horrify are serious horror fans.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
I fully accept that the phrase "I really like Iranian cinema" scores very highly on the Pretentious Wagon scale, but, er, I really like Iranian cinema. What I know of it anyway. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour's debut feature, is a fantastic and stunningly beautiful addition to the canon. It is also another in a refreshingly high number of feminism-friendly movies circulating at the moment.
The film, set in Bad City, (actually shot in Southern California where there is a large Iranian community) sees the gorgeous Arash (Arash Marandi) suffer the consequences of his father Hussein's (Marshall Manesh) drug addiction when the horrible, hilarious and fabulously styled drug-dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) takes his precious car to cover a drug debt.
Arash is basically a nice guy, and crucially, unlike the other men in the film, he likes and respects women. This will work out well for Arash who develops a thing for the mysterious beauty (Sheila Vand) who floats around of an evening making an interesting symbol of the chador whilst also somehow making it look sexy. The local prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marno), a focus for all the crap in local men's heads, also finds a surprising ally in The Girl.
More Vampire Western than horror - anyone seeking a straight-up horror film will be disappointed - this is medium on plot, rich in subtext and high on beauty and originality. Shot in black and white, not only the characters but each frame is beautiful to behold. Murky, ugly emotions abound in an ugly town, but there is beauty to be found. The soundtrack is wonderful too. OK, it's a black-and-white kinda vampire film in Farsi, so it won't be to everyone's taste. But if those parameters don't put you off, this is a piece of cinematic art well worth catching on a big screen.
Now showing at the IFI
Sunday Indo Living