Our weekly roundup of film reviews returns, courtesy of James Bryan...
This week's two big releases are the Eighties nostalgic Son of Rambow and the terrifying-sounding Funny Games.
British film Son of Rambow is the story of two suburban boys who make their own sequel to Rambo: First Blood after watching it on pirate video. Set in the early Eighties it's full of affection for the period (skill!), Peter Bradshaw notes in his 2-star review in the Guardian:
Rambow is trying for something more real: a genuine, affectionate tribute to the innocence and energy of what the kids are creating.
However these intentions aren't wholly realised. As Bradshaw says:
I really wanted to like it, and there are some laughs, but the film doesn't fully earn our sentimental indulgence, and there is a persistent sort of Britfilm lameness, 2-D characterisation and soft-focus comedy.
It's a sentiment echoed by the other reviewers. The Times (3-stars):
There are beautiful observations in here, about the immersiveness, the everyday cruelty and the casual homoerotica of school life. Occasionally, though, the film-makers' belief in the wonderment of the process blinds them to dramatic complexities.
The Independent (3-stars) is generally positive although does think the film gets lost later on:
Garth Jennings' rites-of-passage picture has wit and warmth to start, tracing an Artful Dodger/Oliver relationship between the boys and identifying in both an absent father.
Next up, Funny Games.
Michael Haneke, director of the stunning Hidden (Cache), goes down the US remake path for one of his earlier films Funny Games. It's identical to the original shot-for-shot and has struck terror into the hearts of our critics. Anthony Quinn in The Independent:
I was dreading the prospect of Funny Games. I watched Michael Haneke's original German-language film when it came out 10 years ago, and it has taken about that long to get over it.
Similarly Wendy Ide at The Times confesses that the original, "remains the only film I have watched that has given me recurring nightmares." Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian is not immune either, giving a clue about what has so disturbed our normally hardy critics:
It's an icy ordeal of sadism, a macabre vivisectional experiment in pure cruelty, practised upon a bland upper-middle-class family - two parents, tousle-haired kid, adorable dog - which thinks itself safe in its prosperous cocoon. And just as before, it caused my stomach muscles gradually to contract to about a sixth of their original volume.
Ouch! So is it any good? Well The Guardian and The Times both seem to think so giving the film 4-stars. It's power seems to reside in toying with the audiences voyeurism as two middle class young men terrorise and torture a rich couple played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. As Wendy Ide puts it:
Probably one of the most calculating and manipulative movies yet made, it combines a brilliantly chilling blend of the banal and the matter-of-fact with appalling stone-cold cruelty, all the time nudging the audience to remind them that, first, they are watching a film and, secondly, they are doing it voluntarily. Ultimately, Haneke argues, that makes us participants in the violence of the on-screen story.
Apparently the violence is utterly without motive and mainly occurs off-screen making it all the more terrifying. As Peter Bradshaw says:
Repeat performance this may be, but its brilliance and technique and ingenuity are still in a different league from anything else around. It is horrifying, genuinely horrifying, in a way that regular horror films never are, and somehow never expected to be.
It's only Anthony Quinn that is unconvinced, giving the film 2-stars. He acknowledges its power to terrify but also berates it:
Ten years ago the film felt like an exercise in self-consciousness, a way of investigating our responses to atrocity. Now it feels more like an exercise in self-righteousness, luring us into its sinister scenario, subjecting the characters to harrowing abuse and then berating us for complicity in watching. Haneke is determined to boobytrap the whole movie, making it unapproachable as an entertainment and insufferable as a moral homily.
You can't help but be intrigued with those reviews as to how scary it can actually be. There’s only one way to find out.
We're firmly back in silly Hollywood world with Awake starring Haydn Christensen who for stupid plot reasons is a rich kid with a dodgy heart who finds out about a plot to kill him during surgery because (conveniently) he suffers from a rare condition meaning he's fully awake, but paralysed while under anaesthetic. The Independent isn’t impressed (1-star) calling it "ripe" and that what Christensen needs is a charisma transplant. The Guardian (2-stars) can’t muster up much more enthusiasm:
The twists and turns in the plot are diverting in a ridiculous way, but it's a film you watch in a state of incredulous inertia, tormented by the agonising implausibility, yet too paralysed with boredom to do anything about it.
Whereas the Times is more accommodating of the clichéd characters and silly story-line (3-stars):
You'll have to turn your quibble-meter down to enjoy this, but it plays really well even as the more outrageous plot twists keep coming.
How She Move is yet another aspirational urban dance movie, featuring poor kids dancing their way to a better life. As Peter Bradshaw says (2-stars):
There's not really much to say, other than the dance scenes always look good, and often look great. But the dramatic structure is tired and always, always the same: build a better life through going to college, but don't be a snob; don't turn your back on the old neighbourhood.
The Times (3-stars) recognises an "authentic inner-city feel, some strong performances and a keen sense of the kind of social pressures (including sexism, poverty) that can keep a good girl down."
Fight film Never Back Down belongs on DVD but has somehow leaked into the cinema. It gets 2-stars in the Times saying it "has a strange sort of greasy attraction but is ultimately unsatisfying." While The Guardian hates it (1-star), calling it a "naive and truly obnoxious movie" and saying "what a nasty piece of work this is."
The brilliantly titled, I’m A Cyborg, is a Korean movie that has a young woman in a psychiatric ward believing she is exactly that talking to vending machines and firing imaginary bullets from her fingers. It's quickly dismissed by the Independent (2-stars), "as delusional worlds go, it's mildly entertaining", while the Guardian (2-star) calls it a "frustrating and unsatisfying piece of work". The Times (2-star) says that the film has appeal and visual flair but:
the self-conscious quirkiness of both the stars and the lurid peripheral characters is ultimately more infuriating than charming. By the end of the film you wish that they would just lobotomise the lot of them
Next week brilliant students take on Vegas in 21 and George Clooney prances about in Leatherheads.
By James Bryan