Only a month or so ago I happened to be watching an re-run of an old Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on the Universal channel one night and noticed that the episode was directed by Juan Jose Campanella. The Argentinian cut his teeth with several stints on the procedural police show before going on to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2010 with the marvellous The Secret in Their Eyes, a movie which combined a murder mystery with a love story and a flashback to his country's fascist past.
Where did he go, I wondered? Well, he's only gone and popped up with an animation that is Argentina's biggest-grossing film ever and one which has proved a huge hit across South America and in Germany.
And it's an utterly charming gem which should certainly provide an antidote for anyone suffering from post-World Cup blues, which, I'd imagine, counts for a huge number of people of all ages.
As anyone who saw The Secret in Their Eyes will recall, Campanella's story worked football references into the script and featured a spectacular set-piece in which his cameras followed a chase inside a football stadium during a match, so he's ideally qualified to helm an animated fantasy about a team of table footballers who come to life.
The Unbeatables opens with an hilarious homage to 2001: a Space Odyssey before we're brought to a 'story within a story' told by a father to his son about how a young boy called Amadeo was unbeatable at foosball, even beating the arrogant Flash before the latter's potential was spotted by an unscrupulous agent and taken off to make it in the real game.
Cut to years later and Amadeo (voiced by Rupert Grint) is mooning over Laura (Eve Ponsonby) when the aforementioned agent returns with a plan to build the world's biggest football stadium in the small town (he uses the persuasive line "You can trust me, I worked for FIFA").
Also in tow is Flash (Anthony Head), who's now the most famous and incredibly arrogant footballer on the planet and certainly not - repeat, certainly not - based on Cristiano Ronaldo. No way, Juan Jose.
So, the story develops with Amadeo accepting a challenge from Flash, but we switch into the realm of the magical when the former's foosball players come to life and agree to help their former owner to try to win the match.
Yes, we've seen this one play out before, but where The Unbeatables works is in the subtlety and imagination of the animation and the sly humour of the script. The producers have cleverly allowed different voice teams in the countries of release to play around with the local references and accents, allowing the central story to remain universal while in-jokes can be inserted wherever locally appropriate.
Thus, the foibles of commentators can be exploited, as can references to, say, games between Chelsea and Accrington Stanley while there's a deft one-liner which will definitely appeal to fans of The Damned. All in all, this is an inventive and thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapism which is clearly designed to be watched in 3D but looks glorious anyway in a two-dimensional format. Back of the net!
(Drama. Starring Alex Brendemuhl, Florencia Bado, Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti, Elena Roger, Ana Pauls. Directed by Lucia Puenzo. Cert 15A)
Argentina is again to the fore in this gripping drama from writer/director Lucia Puenzo, who's adapted her own novel to create a thriller which works on several levels. Set in 1960 in Patagonia, the film begins in wonderful fashion as a family are set to travel across beautifully desolate territory to the foot of the Andes, where the wife's p www.kravmaga.ie
www.focusfitness.ie arents once had a hotel which she and her husband intend to reopen. However, before they depart they're approached by a German vet, Helmut Gregor (Alex Brendemuhl), who asks if he can follow behind in his car as he's unsure of the route in such treacherous terrain.
From the off we're given the creeps by the interest Helmut takes in the family's 12-year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), who was born prematurely and hasn't developed physically, prompting Helmut to eventually move into the hotel and suggest a range of treatments.
Meanwhile, Eva (Natalia Oreiro) is pregnant with twins while husband Enzo (Diego Peretti) is offered finance for a range of dolls by their mysterious guest.
There's a wonderful sense of dread built up throughout, what with the hotel's lakeside setting resembling the German Alps, a mysterious 'sanatorium' next door (where the guests 'never leave' but are occasionally spotted walking around the grounds with bandages covering their heads), hydroplanes landing regularly and a German enclave at a local school practising discipline which wouldn't have been out of place in the Third Reich. Before long, as news filters through of Adolf Eichmann's abduction in Buenos Aires by Mossad and the levels of tension increase, it becomes clear that what we have here is a 'Nazis on the run' story, with speculation growing that 'Helmut' is a very big fish indeed.
We've been here before of course, most notably with Franklin J. Schaffner's great 1978 thriller The Boys from Brazil, and while it's not as action-packed, which brilliantly had Gregory Peck playing against type as the monstrous Josef Mengele, Lucia Puenzo's film really does grab the attention. The way she shoots the doll parts as Enzo's creations go into production has clear resonances with Nazi death camps while Brendemuhl is truly frightening as a man who's seemingly calm and caring but is always watchful and wary, the look of a predator rarely leaving his eyes. There are political subtexts too, with Argentina's tolerance of Nazis in their midst clearly indicating how easily it was for that country to slip into fascist ways a decade after this film is set. Thoroughly recommended.
PLANES 2: FIRE & RESCUE
(Animation. Featuring the voices of Dane Hook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Hal Holbrook, Teri Hatcher, Curtis Armstrong, John Ratzenberger. Directed by Roberts Gannaway. Cert General)
When Disney's Planes came out a couple of years back it was viewed as a relatively harmless piece of entertainment that benefited enormously from the fact that it wasn't Cars, easily the worst movie to emerge from the Pixar stable, albeit one which did solid business and prompted Pixar head John Lassiter to make Cars 2 by way of an 'up yours' to those who'd dumped on his pet project. Well, here we are with Planes 2: Fire & Rescue and it's...fine.
Having become famous for winning a round-the-world race in the previous film, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Hook) is enjoying his celebrity and looking forward to taking part in the next big race when he discovers that his gearbox won't allow him to compete and, reluctantly, heads to a Fire & Rescue unit to train as a fire plane under the tutelage of the crusty helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris).
The script allows for a few jokes to keep the adults happy but, essentially, Planes 2 is for younger children. That said, some of the animation, particularly the shots of a burning forest at night, is superb and, at a trim 80-odd minutes, this certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.