Now in Cinemas: Reviews for April 5, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction, Notes on a Scandal, Meet the Robinsons, Red Road, Blood & Chocolate
Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

Highly inventive (Charlie) Kaufman- esque script by Zac Helm is brought to life in director Marc Forster´s Stranger Than Fiction. IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) leads a life of dull monotony; one day he begins to hear a voice. He soon discovers that the voice is that of a narrator, telling his story, and with the help of Dustin Hoffman´s literary professor (and an ominous “little did he know…” voiceover) he realizes that something bad may be about to happen. Meanwhile, author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) has a bit of writer´s block; her problem: she can´t seem to find the right way to kill off her main character. When Crick overhears Eiffel in a TV interview, he recognizes the voice of his narrator and sets out to find her.

Stranger Than Fiction
Rating:
Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tom Hulce, Linda Hunt, Dustin Hoffman. Written by Zach Helm.
Showtimes
IMDb link
The film is both intelligent and thoughtful, a rare feat; it not only plays with its characters (and the audience), but it also cares about them (and us). Though Forster occasionally lets things lag during the more conventional romantic scenes between Harold and Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker whom Crick is sent to audit, Ferrell and Gyllenhaal are affecting and we care enough about the characters to forgive the director. The main problem occurs late in the film, when Helm has emptied his bag of tricks and we are left with a predictable finale that lacks the imaginative punch of the film that preceded it; it´s slightly disappointing, but would have been even more so if we didn´t care as much about the characters. Production design is nice but doesn´t quite match the inventiveness of the script; scenes showcasing Crick´s obsession with numbers feel a bit derivative (A Beautiful Mind comes to mind). Overall, it´s an enjoyable ride that doesn´t quite reach the heights of its aspirations, but provides a lot of fun, and a bit of heart, along the way.



***

Notes on a Scandal
Rating:
Directed by Richard Eyre. Starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, Andrew Simpson. Written by Patrick Marber, from the novel by Zoe Heller.
Showtimes
IMDb link


Wildly overpraised Fatal Attraction derivation from director Richard Eyre nevertheless entertains due to excellent performances from its two leads. Teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) befriends new art instructor Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett); when Barbara witnesses Sheba having an affair with an underage student, she uses the information to manipulate her way deeper into Sheba´s life. Dench seethes with insidious obsession and performs the role with Shakespearian bravura; Blanchett plays off her brilliantly, revealing the multiple layers that allow her to become an object of obsession for a schoolboy and her older colleague. Eyre´s direction is adequate but Patrick Marber´s screenplay deflates everything, as it inevitably falls prey to genre trappings; this is a film driven by contrivance and emotion over logic. Still good fun; worth watching for the performances. Disarmingly similar to Roger Michell´s overlooked 2004 thriller, Enduring Love.

***

Meet the Robinsons
Rating:
Directed by Stephen J. Anderson. With the voices of Anderson, Angela Bassett, Tom Selleck, Harland Williams, Laurie Metcalf, Tom Kenny, Adam West, Nicole Sullivan. Written by Jon Bernstein, Robert L. Baird, Michelle Bochner, Daniel Gerson, Shirley Pierce, from the book by William Joyce.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Pre-teen inventor and lonely orphan Lewis is whisked away into the future by mysterious Wilbur to prevent Bowler Hat Guy from disrupting the time-space continuum. Here, he meets the bizarre family he never had. Stilted 3-D animation, missing the grace of Disney´s co-productions with Pixar, is off-putting at first but the retro-50´s design (with a dash of Tim Burton) eventually becomes infectious. Kitchen sink approach to entertainment throws in everything from a T-Rex to Adam West, but pacing is all over the place; beginning and end drag on, while the midsection moves at a breakneck speed (providing some great fun if you can keep up with it). Pic completely muddles time travel logic by the end, but the intended audience shouldn´t care (though they may be confused – I certainly was). No classic – not by a longshot – but a pleasant enough time-waster for kids with a few choice gags for adults (the best: a completely off-the-cuff Tom Selleck reference). Original music by Danny Elfman and Rufus Wainwright.

Note: film is screening mostly in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens. Catch the original English-language version at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům.

***

Red Road
Rating:
Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compston, Nathalie Press, Andrew Armour. Written by Andrea Arnold, from characters devised by Anders Thomas Jensen and Lone Scherfig.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Lonely CCTV operator Jackie (Kate Dickie) spies mysterious Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of her cameras; decidedly un-subtle music clues us in that this is important. She begins to watch him, follow him, and eventually interact with him. Who is he? You´ll find out if you can make it through this interminable effort from director Andrea Arnold. After 15 minutes, fascinating; after 45, things get tedious. But after 100 minutes of not knowing what the hell is going on I simply felt angry at the filmmakers for jerking me around. Things are wrapped up rather nicely, as motivations are revealed in retrospect, but I wish the whole thing didn´t hinge on a revelation when it´s all we´re waiting for; had the audience been informed from the start, it would have made for a much more compelling movie. Also features one of the more disturbing sex scenes in recent memory.

***

Blood and Chocolate
Rating:
Directed by Katja von Garnier. Starring Agnes Bruckner, Hugh Dancy, Olivier Martinez, Katja Riemann, Bryan Dick, Chris Geere, Tom Harper. Written by Ehren Kruger and Christopher Landon, from the book by Annette Curtis Klause.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Painfully dull teenage werewolf flick features precious little blood or chocolate. It´s Underworld without the vampires, or the conflict, as adolescent she-wolf Agnes Bruckner falls in love with human Hugh Dancy. Of course, this causes a rife within her community of werewolf expatriates (werepatriates?) living in Romania, as she has been chosen as the next wife of were-king Oliver Martinez. Competently filmed, with some nice shots of Bucharest; otherwise, while rarely overtly awful, the experience is numbing – far worse than watching any truly ‘bad´ movie could be. Glitchy editing is used to cover up lack of an FX budget to laughable effect.

***

Also opening: the Czech teen comedy Pusinky (showtimes | IMDb), from director Karin Babinská. Film is screening in Czech, without English subtitles.


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