Oh Jason Bateman, you can do better than Couples Retreat / image courtesy of Universal Pictures
Our weekly round up of cinema reviews
Couples Retreat got released on Wednesday, which is what studios do with films that are either a) massive blockbuster type things or b) too shit to survive the critical mauling due on the Friday. Guess which category this falls into? “A loo book written by Pol Pot would have more laughs than this chillingly unfunny, cynically prefabricated non-comedy” spits the Guardian (do you need telling it’s a 1 star review?). Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn wrote and star as two of a group of friends on a, well, couples retreat holiday. Safe to say, this is not Swingers. This is nowhere near as good as Swingers. “It’s as if their earlier, funnier work has been airbrushed from memory. Instead of being a pair of average Joes, they’re demigods… this vanity, this overweening self-regard, makes Couples Retreat such a chore to sit through” says the Times (1 star), while Empire simply thinks “there are a lot of very funny people working here, yet as a sum of their combined talents this falls astonishingly short” (2 stars).
The danger with Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is that “much of the talk surrounding the film will focus on the fact that it was Heath Ledger’s final and uncompleted film” (Evening Standard, 3 stars) but that would be to ignore all that is “mad and beautiful and bewildering” (Times, 3 stars) about it. Christopher Plummer is the titular Doctor Parnassus, locked in competition with the devil to save the soul of his daughter (Lily Cole). Ledger plays Tony, a newcomer to Parnassus’s travelling sideshow, who takes unwitting visitors into the ‘imaginarium’; inside, he’s played by the other actors who filled the role after Ledger’s death (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell). But “this film is really for [Gilliam] fans only” says the Guardian (2 stars), as the Independent (1 star) explains the problems more specifically: “the rubber ball of invention requires the stout wooden floor of realism to bounce off, but Gilliam’s screenplay hasn’t provided any floors. Or walls. Or ceilings. What he does is to devise dreamlike set-pieces, hopping from one to another like a frog to a lily pad“.
Thirst is another vampire movie, but not another vampire movie. Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy, has “managed a fresh spin on the subgenre in this lengthy, quirky tale” (Empire, 4 stars). A priest is turned into a vampire after an experimental blood transfusion and begins an affair with the wife of a friend. The Telegraph loves the “heaps of blackly comic verve, erotic piquancy and daring” (4 stars) and the Times feels that although Park “is a stylist better at set pieces than cogent storytelling, but he knows how to pack a punch” (4 stars).
From vampires to zombies. But in Pontypool, the deadly virus is carried not by bite, but by language. The film focuses on a talk radio DJ who should be safe locked in his booth, but is he causing more problems by reporting on what’s happening outside? “It’s always an unexpected bonus in a zombie film to find the brains evident in the screenplay rather than splattered all over the scenery” says the Times; however, the “explanation for the virus… is ingenious but unsatisfying, and the ominous mood of the first half-hour dissipates beneath a quasi-philosophical panic about the abuse of words” (Independent, 3 stars). The Evening Standard wonders if it “might have been even better as a radio play” (3 stars).
British writer-director Christopher Smith has a good history when it comes to horror / thrillers (Creep, Severance) so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Triangle has a plot above your average slasher. Melissa George plays a single mother with an autistic son who accepts an invite for a yacht trip. When the yacht capsizes she manages to clamber aboard an abandoned cruise liner, where she’s terrorised by an attacker and an even scarier time loop. “Gradually, the film atomises into a sort of supernatural puzzle” says the Independent (3 stars), while the Guardian is pleased to call it “a rather smart, interestingly constructed scary movie” (3 stars). Empire applauds George’s performance; she’s “impressive in a complex role which requires her to spend quite a bit of the film not giving too much away while not registering as a total blank” (4 stars).
Set in Thailand 600 years before 2003′s original Ong Bak, Ong Bak: The Beginning is a kung-fu revenge flick with a “gritty jungle setting, spare dialogue and grungy warring tribes” (Empire, 3 stars). But unlike the first film, “the balance tip[s] firmly towards bone-crunching fisticuffs rather than acrobatic stunt-work” (Telegraph). The Times also has an issue with star-turned-director Tony Jaa’s style: his “directing ethos seems to be that there is no scene that can’t be improved by excessive slow-mo and the sound of distant thunder on the soundtrack” (2 stars).
Just one review for the tiny-budget WMD. It examines the evidence presented to us in justification for invading Iraq, through the medium of ‘found surveillance footage’. The Guardian thinks director David Holroyd “builds a patina of plausibility, despite the distracting presence of one or two selfconscious extras” (3 stars).
Next week: Wes Anderson’s highly tipped Fantastic Mr Fox and more undead in The Vampire’s Assistant.