Film reviews: Safety Not Guaranteed | Grabbers | Midnight’s Children | Zaytoun

Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed
Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed
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Alistair Harkness reviews the latest cinema releases.

Safety Not Guaranteed (15)

Directed by: colin trevorrow

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni

* * *

QUIRKY has become such a pejorative when applied to lo-fi American indie filmmaking that describing the plot of Safety Not Guaranteed risks alienating audiences allergic to the determinedly off-beat.

But sometimes quirky is okay if offset with believable enough characters grappling with real issues. That’s the case here. It may revolve around a loner called Kenneth (played by Mark Duplass) who places an ad in a local paper for a time travel companion, but director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly are more interested in using the story’s sci-fi trappings as a nifty metaphor for the way the characters ruminate on their regret-tinged lives and constantly imagine how things might have turned out had they made alternate choices.

Chief among those characters is Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a Seattle-based magazine intern who begins to fall for Kenneth when she goes on the road with her boss (Jake Johnson) and fellow uptight intern Arnau (Karan Soni) in pursuit of a story about him. Like Kenneth, she has a few emotional issues to work through, but the film handles these subtly and Plaza is such an unusual screen presence that she further grounds the film’s more whimsical elements.

Grabbers (15)

Directed by: jon wright

Starring: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey

* *

A TRIBUTE to a tribute, this second-hand riff on knowing genre fare such as Tremors and Shaun of the Dead isn’t funny or inventive enough to transcend its central premise.

That premise revolves around an alien invasion in which a band of blood-sucking, alcohol-allergic tentacle-wavers descend upon an isolated Irish island community full of drunken reprobates. This may sound like a formula for all kinds of crazy and entertaining hi-jinks. Sadly, beyond the one good joke implicit in having a bunch of unlikely heroes wilfully embracing drunkenness as a survival strategy while forgetting that alcohol seriously impairs judgment, there’s way too much resting on lets-get-pissed-style humour and not enough decent gags or interesting chracter development.

As the beleaguered island cop and enthusiastic rookie doing holiday cover, Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley’s relationship dynamic is very reminiscent of that forged by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead (the pub-under-siege ending, meanwhile, is pretty much a direct steal from that film). On the plus side, the monster effects look great, regardless of the budget, but this just makes it all the more frustrating that the rest of it doesn’t measure up.

Midnight’s Children (12A)

Directed by: Deep Mehta

Starring: Satya Bhabha, Seema Biswas, Ronnit Roy, Siddharth, Shriya Saran

* *

JUST a week after Life of Pi, here comes another adaptation of a thought-to-be-unfilmable, Indian-themed Booker-winning novel. Alas, where the former film – flawed though it was – managed to make its hallucinatory story come to life on the screen for large chunks of the running time, this adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s 1980 novel is much more of a slog.

That’s a shame because with Rushdie adapting and narrating the story himself, his voice remains undeniably present. Unfortunately, as with a lot of filmmakers who attempt to transpose magical realist concepts to the big screen, director Deep Mehta (best known for her elements trilogy: Earth, Fire and Water), fails to find a tone that can successfully balance the fantastical with the heart-wrenching.

Homing in on the fate of a dirt-poor street singer’s son who is born at the exact moment Indian independence is granted (only to be switched at birth with the son of a well-to-do couple), the story’s status as an allegory for modern India’s difficult birthing process ends up feeling too on-the-nose, while the plight of lead character Saleem (played by Darsheel Safari as a boy and Satya Bhabha as an adult) looses emotional resonance. There are some nice performances here and there, but nothing about this contravenes why it was thought to be difficult book to make into a film.

Zaytoun (15)

Directed by: eran riklis

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Abdallah El Akal, Alice Taglioni

* * *

SET against the run up to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Zaytoun is a humane plea for understanding masked as an odd couple buddy movie. In it, director Eran Riklis, who made the similarly conciliatory (and rather fine) Lemon Tree a few years back, creates a sort of fantasy version of how things should be by building his story around the unlikely friendship that develops between a 14-year-old Palestinian refugee (Abdallah El Akal) and an Israeli fighter pilot (Stephen Dorff) who crash lands in the middle of war-torn Beirut.

When the latter is taken hostage by a group of fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Fahed (El Akal) agrees to help him escape in return for helping him make a pilgrimage to his family’s former home village across the Isreali border. Though the film never gets much deeper than this, Riklis is good at using the tropes of the action genre to create moments of tension that give neutral observer a sense of how fragile and fraught with peril life is in the region. It’s unlikely to change anyone’s deep-rooted views on the region’s politics, but it’s an accessible and well-intentioned attempt nonetheless.