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Movie reviews: A spark of genius

RUBY SPARKS Comedy/drama. Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Elliott Gould, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Cert 15A,

Six years on from Little Miss Sunshine, the expectations are high for the second movie from the directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. That lovely movie set a high bar when it came to being able to mix comedy with unexpected swerves into more serious areas and had an excellent script, which was performed with great heart by a talented cast. Well, all of those elements are present and correct here, making the wait well worth it.

Paul Dano, who made his breakthrough as the sullen son in Little Miss Sunshine, returns as Calvin Weir-Fields, an author who had a huge critical and commercial hit with his first novel at the age of 19 and has spent a decade trying to come up with a follow-up. Suffering a severe bout of writer's block, Calvin's therapist (Elliott Gould) suggests that he write a single page of anything in order to clear the mental jam. Luckily, or not, Calvin has recently been having dreams in which a girl called Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) recurs so, inspired by this dream girl, he's soon pounding away on his trusty old typrewriter (so much more beloved of directors than those horrible computer thingies) and feeling the creative juices flowing as of old. Until, that is, he awakes one morning to find a flesh-and-blood Ruby in his kitchen making him breakfast.

The notion of writers having their characters manifest themselves in real life is not a new one, one could cite examples ranging from Flann O' Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds to the last decent Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction, but the script here (by Kazan herself) uses the device to take a look at how control can warp a relationship. Calvin's initial shock at what's happened gives way to delight that he's found his ideal woman, one whose every move and mood he can dictate by simply typing it on to a page, but with that power come problems and questions.

The film's central pairing of Dano and Kazan work beautifully together, their chemistry no doubt greatly helped by the fact that they're a couple offscreen, and there are excellent supporting roles from Chris Messina as Calvin's initially sceptical brother and Annette Bening as their mother, now living an idyllic hippy lifestyle with her chair-making lover (Antonio Banderas).

The initial quirkiness of the concept has a touch of peak-period Woody Allen about it but, as the story progresses, a hint of darkness and even cruelty creeps in to give the film an added, deeper dimension. Roll on Kazan's next outing as a screenwriter and let's hope that Dayton and Faris don't leave it intil 2018 before gifting us their next movie. Lovely stuff.

4/5

ON THE ROAD Drama. Starring Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst. Directed by Walter Salles. Cert 16.

This should have been an Oscar-bound cert. Jack Kerouac's Beat bible novel finally brought to the screen by an excellent director in Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) with a fine cast on board, so what went wrong?

Well, the central problem with the story of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund) as they gallivant their way around the burgeoning hipster scene in New York in the late 1940s before striking out on various road trips to Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco is that they're not particularly interesting and certainly not remotely likeable characters.

A pair of libidinous, licentious wasters with an inflated sense of their impending greatness, they borrow, steal and bum with impunity, treat women appallingly (fair play to Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst for their willingness to play two such dreadfully mistreated females) and live to drink and take drugs with someone else picking up the tab.

While visually impressive, On the Road meanders along from episode to episode, leaving the viewer increasingly annoyed as these dodgy drifters revel in how wonderfully bohemian and liberated they are. The game cast do their best but given that the source novel itself hasn't aged well at all, this is one project which should have been parked well before the cameras rolled.

2/5

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA Animation. Featuring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi. Directed by Gennardy Tartakovsky. Cert PG.

Who'd have thought it, a movie featuring Adam Sandler which won't have you wanting to tear your eyeballs out?

In this acceptable, if by-the-numbers animation, Sandler voices the part of Dracula, who for centuries has been running the lodging house of the title as a refuge where monsters can take a break safe in the knowledge that no humans can persecute them. However, in preparing for the 118th birthday of Drac's daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) a backpacker (Andy Samberg) gatecrashes the premises and the pair become smitten.

It's a decent enough diversion with a nice turn from Steve Buscemi as a werewolf driven demented by his hyperactive offspring and an ending which is as happy clappy as you'd predict and expect. Still, it'll keep the kiddies happy in the run-up to Halloween.

3/5

ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK

The life and work of the philosopher John Moriarty is celebrated in the floaty, cerebral Dreamtime, Revisited (Cert Club, 3/5), which intercuts interviews with the late thinker with visual interpretations of his themes, principally emigration and remembrance of past generations.


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