Film reviews: Dark Skies | A Late Quartet | All Things to All Men

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ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the rest of the week’s cinema releases, including a new documentary about German director Michael Haneke.

Dark Skies (15)

Directed by: Scott Stewart

Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan RocketT, J.K. Simmons

* * *

THIS umpteenth alien invasion movie takes the suburban-family-going-crazy model established by Close Encounters of the Third Kind and puts a creepier – but not quite creepy enough – spin on proceedings. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star as the Baretts, recession-hit parents who find their young family suddenly under threat from extraterrestrial forces as economic woes – he’s an unemployed architect, she’s a struggling realtor – put pressure on their marriage.

The police can’t/won’t do anything to help, so when J K Simmons turns up as a reclusive conspiracy theorist prognosticating a horrible fate for their children unless they can pull together as a family, they do what any (far) right-thinking all-American family would do when faced with an already-among-us (illegal) alien threat on the 4th of July: they get a shotgun and an Alsatian and defend themselves and their home.

Whether or not such imagery (which basically amounts to an updated version of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic) is supposed to be a parody of, or a paean to, the more extreme end of Republican paranoia is up for debate. It does, however, ensure that even when writer/director Scott Stewart’s solidly crafted sci-fi horror feels derivative (and the hand of Paranormal Activity/Insidious producer Josh Blum is fairly evident), it’s never uninteresting.

A Late Quartet (15)

Directed by: Yaron Zilberman

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir, Imogen Poots

* *

ONE might expect a film set in the high culture world of classical music to come up with a more sophisticated metaphor for the insecurities of a violinist than having him worry about always playing second fiddle in life.

But such is the spell-everything-out nature of this pseudo sophisticated drama – about a world-famous New York quartet thrown into disarray when its oldest member (Christopher Walken) discovers he has Parkinson’s – that not only does it cast Philip Seymour as, literally, the ensemble’s second violinist, it proceeds to mine cheap drama from having him wilfully defer to the mistaken belief that playing virtuoso solos is the true badge of a great musician.

Hoffman isn’t the only actor stuck with Chopsticks-level character development though. As his faux rival on the violin, Mark Ivanir is so obsessed with the precision of his playing that he refuses to attempt Beethoven without sheet music because – and stop me if I’m going too fast for you here – he’s too scared to give into his passion to play it accurately by heart. On and on this goes, with only Catherine Keener – relegated to the frumpy wife/mother/colleague role – transcending the strictures of director Yaron Zilberman’s clunking script.

Michael H – Profession: Director (18)

Directed by: Yves Montmayeur

* * * *

“IT’S always more fun to make a film with Haneke than to watch one,” joked one of the actors from Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf at the film’s Cannes premiere. That observation certainly applies to this fascinating documentary on the Austrian auteur.

Tracing Haneke’s career in reverse (from Amour back to debut feature Benny’s Video), it’s a far more illuminating film than recent cinematic chores such as The White Ribbon. Of course the adoring arthouse masses that Haneke seems to have cowed into submission of late will doubtless nod sagely along with the dozens of collaborators who talk about the “exactitude”, “precision” and “humanity” of his work. However if, like me, you have long-since tired of his professorial, puppet-master approach to filmmaking, you can just as easily get a kick out of the way he pretentiously refuses to resist all analysis while simultaneously confirming every possible preconception you might have. The best part is when he’s asked to recall his first memory. Describing a visit to the opera as a child, he recalls laughing the whole way through and getting a kick out of the way his behaviour upset the bourgeois audience in attendance. Which is pretty much Haneke’s career in a nutshell.

All Things to All Men (15)

Directed by: George Isaac

Starring: Rufus SeweLl, Toby Stephens, Gabriel Byrne, Leo Gregory

* *

FOLLOWING recent efforts such as The Sweeney and Welcome to the Punch, All Things to All Men is the latest attempt to make a British Michael Mann-style crime epic based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Michael Mann actually does as a filmmaker.

Thus, instead of creating a plausible scenario based on real-world research and shooting it using cutting-edge techniques and radical compositions, writer/director George Isaac reverts to a convoluted plot full of taciturn professionals speaking faux terse dialogue as – you guessed it – a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues that will once again blur the thin blue line separating cops from criminals.

That nothing new is added to the mix almost goes without saying, although All Things to All Men does distinguish itself by how brazenly it’s willing to fleece not just Mann’s back-catalogue for ideas, but dozens of other famous crime films too. The most glaring example in a film full of corrupt cops, respectability-craving gangsters, wayward sons and lone wolf assassins is the presence late on of the “Rollo Tomasi” plot twist from LA Confidential, which goes so far beyond homage its usage could more accurately be classified as daylight robbery.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (U)

Directed by: Peter Hedges

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, David Morse

* *

THIS Disney-produced family film from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? writer Peter Hedges is odd indeed. A parable about learning to adapt to what life throws at you, it revolves around infertile couple Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) whose wish for a child comes true when a little boy sprouts up from their back garden like a real-life Cabbage Patch Kid.

Replete with a handful of symbolism-heavy leaves growing from his shins, Timothy (CJ Adams) is all they ever hoped for – just not in the way they imagined. Parenting analogy duly established, what follows plays out like a gentle amalgam of A.I. (for the preternaturally empathetic child) and Edward Scissorhands (for the sensitive and loveable freak).

Timothy’s magical presence transforms Cindy and Jim’s lives, brings together the residents of their old-timey recession-hit town closer, and even inspires Jim and Cindy to create a (not very) revolutionary new type of pencil – made from leaves apparently – that might, just might, save the ailing pencil factory in which Jim works as an unappreciated foreman.

A slice of retro whimsy, it’s rooted to nothing in particular and is inoffensive in every way except its overwhelming blandness.