Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan…
This week we’ve got superior Spanish horror The Orphanage, Easter kids fantasy film The Spiderwick Chronicles and po-faced environmental documentary The Eleventh Hour.
The Orphanage gets great reviews from The Guardian and The Independent with The Times differing its opinion. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian (4-stars) says that the:
chiller, set in contemporary Spain, is involving and disturbing, and revives the genre's great theme: our profound yet unacknowledged fear of children. We are afraid of their vulnerability, which is our vulnerability, and the mysterious otherness of their private, mental worlds.
It concerns a happily married woman who buys the run-down old orphanage where she grew up. Her adopted son goes missing and the house turns out to be haunted by the ghosts of its previous tenants. As Peter Bradshaw says of the director and screenwriter:
Sanchez and Bayona have used the ghost story theme to evoke deep fears: that of a child being hurt, or taken away, or even, more importantly and insidiously, somehow choosing to leave.
The Independent also gives the film 4-stars and talks about the influence of the film’s producer Guillermo del Toro:
It's not hard to detect the influence of del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, as well, in the way that Laura flirts with another world, and her gradual embrace of the prospect of death, which she believes will unite her with her son. The Orphanage doesn't have the visual éclat of Pan's Labyrinth – nothing like the eyeless ogre to give you nightmares. Instead, it teases out the nightmares you already have, and gives them a new, rather too believable form.
Strangely, none of this has impressed Wendy Ide in the Times who only gives the film 2-stars, calling it “Histrionic and illogical, this is an infuriating mess of a movie that lacks the rich imagery of Del Toro’s films.” Compared with most contemporary horror films with their groups of soon-to-be slaughtered identikit teens this does look much deeper and more profoundly haunting.
Next up, The Spiderwick Chronicles.
It’s Easter so the cinemas are filled with child friendly holiday filler such as The Spiderwick Chronicles. The Times is most impressed (4-stars) saying it’s:
the most enjoyable PG fantasy this side of Hogwarts, and the first worthy rival to J. K. Rowling’s mighty franchise. Mark Waters’s supernatural mix of real actors and animated monsters is a ripper of yarn: emotionally messy and surprisingly frightening.
The film is the story of a family who move into a creepy mansion and find themselves sucked into a battle between all manner of fantasy creatures. The Independent admires the central performances but feels the film “doesn’t deliver on anything we haven’t had before” (3-stars). Over at the Guardian the film is described as a “run of the mill fantasy” (2-stars) and “moderate stuff”.
The 11th Hour is an overtly earnest Leonardo DeCaprio narrated documentary about how we’re destroying the planet (who knew?). There’s an impressive range of talking heads and the Guardian gives the film 3-stars before concluding it’s unlikely to have the impact of An Inconvenient Truth:
The 11th Hour, with its library footage and earnest celebrity narrator is a more old-fashioned beast. Impressive and urgent yes, but unlikely to have a fraction of the impact.
The Independent says the intentions of the film are worthy of 5-stars but they settle with 1-star and that “it’s not going to change anybody’s mind about climate change.”
The Times agrees that this is preaching to the converted and although DeCaprio is “well-meaning” there’s:
something a little off about an actor who reportedly earns some $20 million for one film fronting a movie that blames rapacious consumerism for the parlous state of our planet’s ecosystems.
Love in the Time of Cholera is a brave adaptation of Gabriel Garcia’s Marquez’s beloved novel that, despite the talent of all those involved, isn’t a success conversion. The Times (2-stars):
Condensing such a huge and richly textured book into a film proves impossible, with years dispensed with in a matter of throwaway minutes. It's handsomely photographed, but even the lush backdrop fails to capture the heady, humid passion of its source.
The Independent (2-stars) calls it an “essentially dull piece of period whimsy” however it’s The Guardian that offers the worst review (1-star), a “horrifically boring festival of middlebrow good taste” and then later saying:
This film is plainly supposed to be life-affirming and life-enhancing, a classy literary date movie for the educated classes. It actually looks smug and tacky and dull: a softcore Captain Corelli. A film to be strictly quarantined.
Lars and the Real Girl is the story of a social outcast who buys himself an anatomically correct doll to live with. It wants to be a touching quirky Indie hit and modestly succeeds. The Independent (3-stars):
It turns out, Lars and the Real Girl is a humane, and often sweet, study of the strain of growing up and having adult relationships. Why, at times it's almost plausible.
The Times (2-stars) calls the premise “too fabulous for words” and questions why the locals, who play along with Lars delusions, don’t have him locked up. “No one has the wit to phone a tabloid newspaper when Lars wheels the pouting beauty into church.”
The Guardian (2-stars) calls the film “an oddity and an original, though its comic and satiric premises are fuzzily defined and finally just don't work.”
The Times, in a 1-star review of Step Up 2 The Streets questions why they bothered:
If there is any mileage left in making films about troubled teenagers expressing themselves through hip-hop, there certainly isn't for doing it with the predictable plot and streams of clichés spouted in this sequel.
The Independent (1-star) notes that “the plot and dialogue are utterly clichéd.” The Guardian is slightly kinder (2-stars) acknowledging the films “cheesy sentimentalism” but saying that the “choreography itself is exhilarating”.
Meet the Spartans is described by The Times as “toxic waste” and a “barf of total idiocy.” It’s a spoof of films like 300 and the critics hate it. The Guardian, the only paper giving it a single star, calls it “fantastically unfunny” and “dopey, stupid, almost entirely gag free.” The Independent, in a very short review just says, “if you’ve bothered reading this far you’ve already wasted more time on it than it deserves.”
Next week, Owen Wilson in Drillbit Taylor as bodyguard to a bunch of school kids.
By James Bryan