Film review: A Bigger Splash - enjoyable and Fiennes is fabulous
A Bigger Splash Cert 12A
Reviewed this week are A Bigger Splash, Deadpool, Concussion, Zoolander 2, Oddball and the Penguins, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Survivalist and Chronic.
Ralph Fiennes seems to be enjoying his fifties as a sort of liberation from the pressures of youth and beauty. There's a freedom about him in his recent appearances and, while there's much to like in Luca Guadagnino's latest film, including the majestic Tilda Swinton, Fiennes is the best thing about it.
Rock megastar Marianne Lane (Swinton) is, following surgery on her vocal chords, enjoying an idyllic recuperation on a small Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when her former lover Harry (Fiennes) appears with a very young woman called Penelope (Dakota Johnson) who he claims to be his long lost daughter. Marianne cannot speak beyond an occasional whisper so she and Paul have been enjoying silent, sensual down time, the arrival of ebullient hyper sexual Harry upsets this idyll in terms of volume and solitude. But it soon becomes apparent that his aims run deeper, and a complex dance of possession, lust and rivalry becomes the undertone to languid meals and swimming races.
Guadagnino's last film, I Am Love, featuring Swinton speaking Italian, was a fabulous family melodrama. This semi-remake of the French 1969 film La Piscine enjoys great performances and really good chemistry; it's clever and often funny but feels a little mechanical and lacks emotion at key points. The Rolling Stones tunes aside, the soundtrack is jarring in places, the migrant element is vague and incomplete and overall the film does not quite cohere. But it is enjoyable and Fiennes is fabulous.
It can seem like we live in a Marvel world these days, one where film franchises from the humongous comic-book corporation break box-office records. However, last year's The Fantastic Four and Ant-Man underperformed.
The problem may be the pompous, spandex-clad self- regard of these films. What a delight then to find an anti- superhero romp made on a comparatively tight budget of $50million that not only kicks ass but riles sensibilities and jabs a much-needed pin into the swollen ego of its genre.
Like its source comic, Deadpool is an exercise in fourth-wall sledgehammering. The wise-cracking, devil-may- care mercenary would show up to cause havoc to any Wolverine or Daredevil, all the while winking at the reader. A fan favourite, efforts to give him the big-screen Marvel treatment have been stop-starting since 2000.
On board early as both star and producer, Ryan Reynolds is born to play Wade Wilson, a fast-mouthed mercenary who volunteers for a shady medical experiment he hopes will cure his cancer and ensure a long life with stunning squeeze Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He's left disfigured, warped and equipped with mutant healing powers.
This origins tale is gaily drip-fed to us as Deadpool seeks revenge on Ed Skrein's sadistic scientist. What matters most to director Tim Miller are the core values of the brand - violence, sleaze and a quick-fire comedic opportunism that happily gives itself and its cast both barrels. Low-down dirty fun.
Funny that a film about the insidious risks of head trauma in contact sports should get released here hours before an Ireland-France rugby match. It is repeatedly against Les Bleus that out-half Jonathan Sexton has suffered concussions, to the point that some have been calling for the 30-year-old to consider his health and retire.
Even more timely is that it also comes just days after the Superbowl, the biggest sports event in the US. The NFL, the body that oversees all things American Football, come out as a corrupt and self-serving corporation in this film by Parkland director Peter Landesman, even if in the last five years it has made some assurances that it is taking chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) very seriously. This probably has a lot to do with the NFL settling to the tune of $1billion with thousands of players who allege that it concealed the truth about head trauma risks.
Central to the lid being blown open on the condition was Nigerian-born Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a forensic neuropathologist. After a former football star is found dead from suspected suicide, Dr Omalu notices microscopic brain wounds during his autopsy. He sets out to publish his findings with help from Alec Baldwin's ex-team doctor and his boss at the coroner's office, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).
Naturally, the establishment is none too pleased that this outsider's findings could potentially bring down a multi billion-dollar entertainment industry and the cornerstone of the US heartland. As Omalu's evidence increases, so too does NFL resistance.
Concussion outwardly appears to be a sports drama about brain injury but it is actually a hagiography of Dr Omalu, and this weakens it. Landesman's screenplay (based on Jeanne Marie Laskas' GQ article, Game Brain) tacks on a soppy romance story (Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays wife Prema) and writes Omalu as a loveable, twinkle-eyed immigrant counting his lucky stars to be in the glorious US of A. Regarding Smith and the recent "Oscars so white" fiasco, his iffy Nigerian accent fully exonerates the Academy's perceived snub.
The pressure to do a sequel to a super successful, demi-cult movie must be huge. The pressure to get it right must be even worse. However, the risk is high, for if there are few super successful demi-cult comedies, there are virtually no super successful demi-cult comedy sequels. And sadly, Zoolander 2 is a case in point.
Back in 2001 Zoolander, the story of really, really ridiculously good-looking male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his rivalry with equally uber Hansel (Owen Wilson) was funny, quotable and in many ways ahead of its time - Derek and Hansel practically invented pouting selfies.
The sequel begins with the murder of Justin Bieber (the first of many cameos) outside Sting's house in Rome.
All the beautiful people are being killed, the only clue that Interpol Fashion Crime investigator Valentina (Penelope Cruz) has is that all victims wear a signature Zoolander look.
Derek, however, has been a recluse since the collapse of his Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good, which killed his wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) and resulted in his son being taken into care.
Lured out by a summons delivered by Billy Zane to work for fashion goddess Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) and the promise of getting his son back, Derek and Hansel begin working with Valentina.
Oh it tries so hard but it just doesn't capture the spirit of the original, it is impossible not to compare the two. It is self-conscious, tries too hard and the jokes are mostly, well, lamé.
Ironically, given he hasn't been funny in a film of his own for yonks, Will Ferrell as Mugatu gives Zoolander 2 its best bits but it's too little too late and although not awful, it is weak and the highlights are in the trailer.
Oddball and the penguins
Swampy (Shane Jacobson) is a chicken farmer in Warrnambool, Victoria, who is as Australian as a schooner of VB. His daughter Emily (Sarah Snook) is a wildlife ranger on nearby Middle Island, a sanctuary for endangered Little Penguins. The species has been hammered by local foxes and if the endemic population slips below 10, funding will be cut and the reserve - once under the care of Swampy's late wife - will be given up for development. That in turn could lead to Swampy losing both Emily and his beloved granddaughter to a move overseas.
Salvation arrives in the form of Swampy's beautiful but naughty sheepdog, Oddball. While showing little talent for protecting the farm, he does emerge as an excellent island guardian for the penguin population. Foxes, however, are not the only threat to the prime real estate.
Ask yourself this: Would you prefer your little ones watch an adventure with a strong environmental message, or just noisy, pacifying bubblegum? If the former, then Oddball and the Penguins is just the ticket.
High on charm, spirit, excitement and live-animal magic, Stuart McDonald's real-life tale is a breath of fresh air in a world of gloopy, sterile CGI mulch animated by people who've never set foot outdoors. Sure, its rhythm is slipshod and the performances patchy, but this is hale and hearty fare that your kids may one day thank you for. 4 Stars
Alvin and the Chipmunks
There are certain inevitabilities in life: Taxes will rise; age will impose itself; and animated creatures in big-budget CGI kids' films will sooner or later start rapping and gyrating along to Sir Mix-A-Lot's I Like Big Butts.
The fourth instalment in the bafflingly successful Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise - "hilariously" entitled The Road Chip - dares not toy with the natural order of things and serves up exactly what you'd expect from a film designed to prey on the wallets of addled parents. Consistency is a virtue, some say. Though perhaps not when something is consistently awful.
Jason Lee looks as tired as the brand itself as he returns for a fourth slog as Dave, the human guardian/big brother/father figure to the three squeaky voiced rodents.
Despite spending most of his days addressing empty spaces where blobs of colour will soon be edited into existence, he has managed to find love in the form of the lovely Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and marriage could be on the cards. While fine with Samantha herself, Alvin, Simon and Theodore are lothe to admit her bully son Miles (Josh Green) into their lives. The feeling is mutual, so the four set out on a roadtrip to Miami to intercept Dave and Samantha and stop the proposal going ahead.
Director Walt Becker (who gave us 2011's universally panned Zookeeper) believes kids' entertainment needs are best catered for by primary coloured squibs bouncing inanely to trite pop songs for 90 minutes. Frankly, your children deserve better.
In interviews, Belfast actor Martin McCann comes across as good-humoured and talkative but in The Survivalist he plays a man, the survivalist himself, made paranoid and taciturn.
His world is Northern Ireland after an unspecified apocalypse, a world in which he has built a modest home and a vegetable garden, which he tends with panicky love.
His crops mean the difference between living and dying; and death, as we see from the outset, is a very real risk.
When mother and daughter Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and Milja (Mia Goth) arrive at his door asking to share food, he refuses; only eventually agreeing to barter a meal for sex with the teenage Milja.
Food is paramount, animals seem scarce, so hunting is not an option, even were ammunition plentiful which it is not.
In this unruled world other humans are threats not allies, but the survivalist, Kathryn and Milja form an uneasy alliance.
Stephen Fingleton's writing and directorial debut was made on a tiny budget in Ballymoney and, in keeping with the tone of the film, what resources there were are put to excellent use, nothing is wasted or overblown.
The sci-fi horror benefits from excellent performances all round, without much dialogue the actors all find many ways to express their characters.
This is not by any means an uplifting watch, it is always bleak, sometimes graphic and often cruel - with men in particular coming out of it as nasty, as almost all appear to be potential rapists. However, it is a confident, well-crafted study of very basic human need.
It won't be to everyone's taste, but perky though it is not, it's a great piece of film-making.
The topic of emotional need is well-covered in cinema at the moment and interestingly it is mostly men who are exploring it. Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco explores the concept of need in the context of giving in his latest film, the festival-pleasing Chronic. He has created a memorable character who is delivered beautifully by Tim Roth. But it is for a very specific audience.
David Wilson (Roth) is a nurse with a palliative care agency in LA. He becomes absolutely involved with his patients, seeing out their every need in their final days. However, he has somewhat of a difficulty drawing boundaries and occasionally crosses the line, drawing his patients into his own life. His capacity to give is never in doubt, his enormous personal need, however, is. And this need is very open to misinterpretation, especially by loved ones struggling with loss and inadequacy.
Over the course of an hour and a half it becomes apparent, just about, what has happened in David's life to make him need to care so closely for the dying. It is a marvellous idea and a rich vein of concept. Franco, however, keeps it very minimal and while in Roth he has found a very able interpreter of this minimalism, there are times when the minimalism strays into obtuseness.
This is basically a simple, realistic and analysis-free slice of life. However, the dialogue is flat and spare, shots are held for a very long time, and while this has worked for Franco in the past, it feels a little long here at times. So, while there is much to admire, the three stars come with a codicil in that it is absolutely niche market and art house and the bleakness and lack of narrative punch would make it tedious for many tastes.
Opens February 19 IFI
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