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Film reviews: After Earth | The Stone Roses: Made of Stone | The Iceman

Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) must battle to survive on a hostile planet in the terrible After Earth. Picture: complimentary

Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) must battle to survive on a hostile planet in the terrible After Earth. Picture: complimentary

  • by Alistair Harkness
 

WILL Smith’s ongoing effort to gift his son Jaden a movie career backfires with this dreary, derivative futuristic sci-fi film about a warrior father and his desperate-to-prove-himself son crash-landing on a highly toxic and long abandoned Earth.

After Earth (12A)

Directed by: M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, ZoË Kravitz

*

Cast in the lead (and boasting a bizarre accent), Jaden’s limited acting range, absence of charisma and general lack of screen presence is sorely exposed in a film that requires him to shoulder most of the action while papa Smith, playing his onscreen dad, takes a back seat. The film takes on a further weird meta quality courtesy of a plot that sees Smith’s character injured in the crash and forced to guide Jaden virtually through Earth’s danger-filled landscapes in order to send a rescue signal. Clearly a vanity project, Smith perhaps imagines this plot device will signify to the world that he’s ready to pass the action hero mantle on to his son, but it takes more than nepotism to make a movie star. The fact that the now incomparably terrible M Night Shyamalan serves as co-writer and director also ensures that nothing is coming to this film’s rescue – not even a vaguely cool scene featuring a band of killer baboons.

The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (15)

Directed by: Shane Meadows

* *

IT WOULD be hard to deliver a more worthless documentary about The Stone Roses than the one Shane Meadows serves up here. A huge fan of the band from way back, he’s too awestruck to ask any probing questions and fails at even the most basic level of vérité filmmaking by actually turning the camera off when the reformed band look as if they’re about to split again. His reasoning (and he actually gets in front of the camera to say this) is that the band “don’t need cameras in their faces right now”. Perhaps not, but the film does, especially when the alternative is footage of the Twitter reaction to an incident at which Meadows was present. His dramatic instincts having deserted him, Meadows proceeds to turn Made of Stone into a celebration of the fans, but even here he cops out. There’s no mention, for instance, of how distraught many of the diehard fans were when frontman Ian Brown replaced the original members with session musicians to perform that notoriously awful headline set at the 1996 Reading Festival. In the end, this is little more than a boring promo film designed to stoke the mystique of a band already prone to self-mythology. Amateurs.

The Last Exorcism part II (15)

Directed by: Ed Gass-Donnelly

Starring: Ashley Bell, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen

*

The Last Exorcism was one of those post-Paranormal Activity found footage films that almost did something interesting with the form before revealing itself to be yet another demonic possession retread. This sequel ditches the shaky-cam and settles on being even more generic by recycling tropes from The Exorcist’s many imitators. Ashley Bell – for those who remember anything about the first film – returns as Nell, the virginal Southern belle, who turned out to be genuinely possessed last time round. Now recovering from that trauma in a New Orleans retreat for disturbed and wayward girls, it’s not long before she’s once again plagued by nightmares, devilish hallucinations and off-the-shelf possession signifiers (buzzing flies, birds flying into windows, deep voices coming through radio static…). Co-writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly overloads the film with seen-it-all-before jump cuts and a heavy-handed music cues that verge on parody – something reinforced by Bell’s uncanny resemblance to Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise. It all builds towards another sequel-ready ending, so expect this nonsensically titled series to run and run.

The Iceman (15)

Directed by: Ariel Vromen

Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer

* *

AS FASCINATING a leading man as Michael Shannon is, this biopic of cold-hearted mob hitman Richard Kuklinski really isn’t very good. Estimated to have killed over 100 people, Kuklinski picked up his titular nickname on account of his method of body disposal (he froze his victims to make it impossible to ascertain the time of death). But of course it also reflected his “cold as ice” nature, which is what Shannon taps into here, playing Kuklinski as a dead-eyed psychopath who doesn’t even seem particularly good at faking emotion around his wife (Winona Ryder) and kids – something that effectively makes them seem like little more than in-denial idiots for the duration of the film. Proceedings aren’t helped by director Ariel Vromen’s eagerness to run through the Goodfellas playbook as he outlines Kuklinski’s rise and fall within the underworld. Mistaking leaden atmosphere for gravitas, Vromen turns what could have been a vibrant period drama (it runs from the 1950s through to Kuklinski’s arrest in 1986) into a sludgy ordeal with potentially interesting supporting turns from the likes of David Schwimmer, Ray Liotta and Chris Evans reduced to an amalgam of bad wigs, dodgy sideburns and comedy moustaches.

Thérèse Desqueyroux (12A)

Directed by: Claude Miller

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Gilles Lellouche, AnaÏs Demoustier

* *

A STATELY but underpowered adaptation of Nobel laureate François Mauriac’s best-known novel, Thérèse Desqueyroux finds Audrey Tautou on chilly form as the eponymous free spirit whose true nature is slowly diminished by a stultifying marriage and the social mores of late 1920s France. Born into wealth and privilege, Thérèse is married off to a neighbouring landowner (played by Gilles Lellouche) as part of deal between their families to consolidate their power. Though at first she passively resigns herself to playing the role of the dutiful wife (living vicariously instead through her sister-in-law’s passionate affair with a Portuguese lover), the realisation of what her future will likely bring causes her personality to schism and she begins sabotaging her life and the lives of those around her. Ditching the chronology-subverting structure of the novel in favour of a linear narrative, the film – the last by veteran director Claude Miller, who died last year, shortly after finishing this – takes a long time to get to the meat of the story and, as a result, Tautou’s performance ends up being too aloof when it should be enigmatic.

 

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EDINBURGH
FESTIVALS
2014

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