THE Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness reviews the recent cinematic releases.
Seeking a friend for the end of the world (12A)
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Rob CorDdry
EVEN set against the backdrop of a looming apocalyptic event, the sight of Keira Knightley falling for Steve Carell in this misjudged romantic comedy/drama remains hard to swallow – and not just because the gag reflex kicks in the moment they start batting eyelids at one another.
With an asteroid on an unstoppable collision course with Earth, there’s apparently no time for the kind of character development that might conceivably make theirs a credible cataclysmic coupling. Thus, while each delivers a very sincere performance, their combined appeal is limited by rote movie stereotyping courtesy of a script that can think of nothing better for the gifted Carell to do than have him play a safety-net-loving insurance salesman whose wife leaves him the moment the world’s fate is sealed.
Knightley, meanwhile, is reduced – like so many of her peers in these types of films – to playing the kooky, vinyl-loving dream girl whose allegedly adorable mania is destined to make Carell’s sad-sack feel whole again. Neither feels particularly grounded in anything other than other movies’ conceptions of normality, so much so that by the time Martin Sheen shows up you may well find yourself praying for the apocalypse now.
Directed by: Tony Kaye
Starring: Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Sami Gayle, Betty Kaye
RETURNING to the feature-filmmaking fray after being kicked off 1998’s incendiary American History X, British advertising maverick Tony Kaye’s latest is an artfully raw, hysterically pitched polemic decrying the failings in the American public schooling system.
More Half Nelson than Dead Poets Society, but still awash with inspirational teacher clichés, it stars Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, an emotionally damaged substitute who manages to connect with the urban kids of a once decent school that’s been run into the ground by too many years of cutbacks, parental indifference and quick-fix corporate solutions to long-term social problems. His fellow chewed-up colleagues are a mixture of verging-on-cynical idealists (Christina Hendricks), old-school blowhards (James Caan, entertainingly wry) and thousand-yard-stare afflicted veterans (Tim Blake Nelson) whose social lives are as miserable as their professional ones.
The pupils, meanwhile, are too wrapped up in themselves to care at all about their futures, let alone envision a way to secure one for themselves. All of which makes teaching seem relentlessly grim, something Detachment is a little too intent on impressing upon us as Brody’s saintly educator finds himself trying to save – groan – an under-age prostitute (Sami Gayle) and an unhappy, artistically minded pupil with suicidal tendencies (Kaye’s daughter Betty).
Le Petit Nicolas (u)
Directed by: Laurent Tirard
Starring: Maxime Godart, Valérie Lemercier, Kad Merad, Benjamin AVerty
HERE’S a fairly charming French romp for the school holidays. Adapting René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé’s 1959 children’s book of the same name, director Laurent Tirard brings an exuberant energy and playfulness to this tale of an endearingly mischievous little boy (Maxime Godart) who enlists the help of his merry band of fabulist friends to overcome a potentially life-changing event: the imminent arrival of a new baby brother.
That he may have the wrong end of the stick – a misapprehension fuelled by a partial telling of Tom Thumb – is part of the joke, something that causes him to misinterpret what he sees as the suddenly strange behaviour of his parents (Valérie Lemercier and Kad Merad). Convinced they’re going to abandon him in the woods to make way for the new arrival, little Nicolas and his gang embark on a series of adventures, escapades and accidents as they set about devising a plan to kidnap this yet-to-be-conceived sibling. All rather sweet and charming, and shot with a pleasingly surreal child’s eye view of the world, it feels in places like a tot-friendly Wes Anderson film, with perhaps a touch of Just William too.
Electrick Children (15)
Directed by: Rebecca Thomas
Starring: Julia Garner, Rory Culkin, Liam Aiken
A THOROUGHLY unconvincing premise is executed in a thoroughly unconvincing way in this tepid indie film about rock’n’roll and religious repression. Julia Garner stars as Rachel, a sheltered 15-year-old so naïve about the world that she’s convinced herself that illicitly listening to a bad cover version of Blondie’s Hanging on the Telephone is the reason she’s suddenly with child.
When her flaky mother accuses her brother (Liam Aiken) of interfering with her – never countenancing for a second that perhaps she might have been molested by the creepy Mormon-esque cult leader (Billy Zane) whose technology-abhorring ways keep his followers in a state of malleable ignorance – Rachel decides to escape to nearby Vegas, where she latches on to the first rock band she finds in the hope that she’ll meet the owner of the voice that she believes knocked her up.
Even sillier plot twists duly follow as a sensitive skateboard-loving delinquent (played by Rory Culkin) resolves to become her protector while her brother attempts to get a taped confession that will exonerate him. Debut writer/director Rebecca Thomas peppers the film with some nice-looking visuals, but the underdeveloped characters makes it difficult to take any of the breathy, pseudo-mystical nonsense she’s peddling seriously.
Town of Runners (PG)
Directed by: Jerry Rothwell
ONE of several Olympic-themed documentaries set to hit Scottish screens in the coming weeks, Town of Runners focuses on the small Ethiopian town of Bekoji, home of Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele, respectively the current women and men’s reigning Olympic and World champions for both the 5000 and 10,000 metres.
Their emergence as the domineering forces of their respective fields is examined by introducing us to likeable local coach Sentayehu Eshetu and a couple of new recruits he has talent-spotted.
What follows is a low-key documentary that shows the hard work that goes into making someone a champion, but also the luck and circumstance that form an integral part of one’s success, sometimes irrespective of one’s talent. A desire to escape poverty remains a large motivating force, especially for young aspiring athletes Hawaii, Alemi and Biruk, whose struggles and successes we follow as they give credence to Eshetu’s claim that in Bekoji, running is a way of life.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory here, but British director Jerry Rothwell manages to tell an inspiring story without the sentiment or grandstanding that can ruin a lot of sports documentaries.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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