Wednesday 21 February 2018

Watered down for easy viewing

HOLDS UP: Robert and Reese
in Water for Elephants
HOLDS UP: Robert and Reese in Water for Elephants

Aine O'Connor

Water for Elephants Cert 12A: THEY'VE been doing the Water for Elephants premiere tour in recent weeks, and in New York, London and Barcelona, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson have been arm in arm yet ill at ease.

But then she did say in an interview that when they were doing their love scenes, he had a runny nose. Not that he had a cold. I for one found the runny nose a hard image to shake during the film.

Jacob Jankowski is a very elderly man who starts telling the story of his time in the Benzini Brothers Circus in 1931. Young Jacob (Pattinson) takes over as he is about to sit his final exam in veterinary science and the Cornell authorities take the unusual step of calling him out to tell him that his parents have died in a car accident. With America in the grip of the Depression, Jacob finds himself alone and homeless, and jumps a train that happens to belong to the circus.

After a few hitches, he becomes an integral part of the circus, trusted by August (Christoph Waltz), the borderline psychopath who runs the show, and his wife, the star attraction Marlena (Witherspoon.) But love and a mistreated elephant interfere.

The novel from which Richard LaGravenese adapted the film focused on the love triangle and Jacob's growing disaffection. Inevitably, something has to be lost in the transfer to screen and it's Jacob's wrestle with reality. Pattinson holds his own in Oscar-winning company, but he could do with moving on from the lovelorn roles. It's getting hard to imagine him doing anything that doesn't involve some wistful gazing.

Witherspoon does what is required, which isn't too much, and Waltz steals the show in a near reprise of his Inglourious Basterds role. Jim Norton also makes a contribution as Camel.

Water for Elephants looks lovely, Depression notwithstanding, and doesn't offend. It's essentially an easy-to-watch, nice film that demands little of the viewer other than a penchant for romance. And to forget about the nose.

Now showing

One Hundred Mornings

Cert 15A

STORIES about life after the apocalypse usually show people who have adapted, learned to follow a new life and have abandoned all but the best of the old rules. The apocalypse is also most usually staged as some kind of wasteland, where even weather has turned feral. In his debut feature film, Irish photographer Conor Horgan looks at the apocalypse through different eyes.

His four characters, two couples, find themselves in a cabin, which, although rural, is still within walking distance of Dublin. No explanation is given as to why these two couples are there, why they are together or what has happened; all we know is that it has been a couple of months, the area remains beautiful (Suzie Lavelle has won awards for the cinematography), not decimated, but the trappings of civilisation are collapsing. There is no electricity, little sense of community, food has to be rationed and no one knows what is going on.

The film, however, focuses most on the tensions within the cabin. Jonathan (Ciaran McMenamin) and Hannah (Alex Reid) have marital issues, which predate the current situation; issues highlighted by the apparent idyll of Mark and Katie (Rory Keenan and Kelly Campbell). The only person with whom they have cordial, within limits, relations is their neighbour (Robert O'Mahoney), who is relishing this societal collapse.

The characters are on the not-so-nice side of human -- understandable really; it's as claustrophobic as it should be and while not The Road, it's pretty bleak. Students and debaters of human nature should enjoy it most.

Now showing

Deep End

No cert

Following kudos and acclaim in various international festivals for Essential Killing, one of director Jerzy Skolimowsky's earlier works Deep End -- made in 1970 and long thought lost -- has been found and refurbished. Now it is being given a cinema re-release. Deep End starts wonderfully, hindsight adding to Skolimowsky's talent for detail, with the beautiful young boy Mike (John Moulder-Brown) getting a job as a public bath assistant from the grimy-toothed manager and being dispatched to the care of Susan (Jane Asher).

The baths setting alone is fascinating now (set in London; shot in Munich), but the dynamics of loneliness, lust and envy are well and often comically laid out. Diana Dors cameos as the first regular to want more than shampoo from a bewildered Mike, but all he wants is Susan, even if there is a queue for her attentions. Despite a fiance, a lover and many aspirants, the seemingly mild-mannered Mike pursues her relentlessly; sometimes she plays along, sometimes she doesn't.

Though in many ways the subtext of the film outweighs the text -- the middle is weak and it needed to be strong -- there are some great scenes and wonderful observations, the performances are really good, although Moulder-Brown's -- under direction, I suspect -- seemed too one-dimensional. It drags a bit in places, but the 40 years since the film was made both add and take away -- the impact suffers, but the atmosphere and context benefit.

At the IFI until Thursday

Attack the Block

Cert 16

Writer-Director Joe Cornish doesn't make it easy for his unlikely lads, introducing them as muggers who set upon Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a trainee nurse living in moderate terror in the tower blocks of south London.

Having robbed and scared her, the gang of five, black and white teenage boys led by the most threatening, Moses (John Boyega), chase and kill a creature which landed from the sky. But their swaggering victory doesn't last long, for hot on the dead heels of their kill comes an army of fuzzy but vicious aliens. The boys are forced to defend the territory in whose name they commit crime and travel from zero to anti-hero in 90-odd minutes.

A modern take on the comedy-horror genre, Attack the Block is watchable, original, well shot, entertaining and funny. It is also good to see that while the battle with the aliens rages, Cornish takes on established themes and shakes them to see what comes out.

I can't attest to the veracity of the street talk, but it seemed realistic enough, and the kids traditionally thought of as trouble, are trouble. But their ways and means of being are illuminated from various angles: Sam, whose terror excites and confuses them; the trust-fund stoner (Luke Treadaway), who so desperately wants the block brand of cool; the little local kids who aspire to it; the local girls who have it but want something else; and the drug-dealer who rules over it. And even they joke about how invisibly black their alien enemy is.

No modern British alien movie would be complete without Nick Frost, and there he is, a dealer's assistant. The soundtrack thumps along, there is some gore and plenty of bad language, but it's not major horror and it is well worth a look.

Now showing

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