George Clooney and Ewan McGregor, possibly looking for goats / image courtesy of Momentum Pictures
Our weekly round-up of cinema reviews
Based on Jon Ronson's investigative book of the same name, The Men Who Stare At Goats is a fictionalised account of the American military's attempts to develop psychic ability as a weapon. Note: 'fictionalised' is the key word here. Ewan McGregor plays a naive journalist who stumbles onto one of these American "Jedi warriors" (George Clooney) in Iraq and "follows him on a shamanic journey across the world... Ronson's original book, naturally, wouldn't countenance any of this poppycock, and is written in a decidedly more aghast tone" says the Times (4 stars), but so long as you don't expect serious journalism, you should be OK with this "scattershot but often hilarious military farce" (Empire, 4 stars). Then again... "Peter Straughan's screenplay doesn't shape the material into a story" complains the Independent (1 star), and the Telegraph has similar thoughts. "Charlie Kaufman might have spun the subject of military ESP training... into some kind of lunatic masterpiece. Grant Heslov's dishevelled farce is very much not that film" (1 star). Hmm.
Jane Campion's film of John Keats's romance with Fanny Brawne, Bright Star, is "genuinely poetic. Anybody who thinks "poetic" should mean limp, airy, or flouncy is either not reading enough good poetry or is reading good poetry badly" says the Evening Standard (4 stars). "It is a deeply felt and intelligent film... Very few films allow you to listen to the sounds of silence, or near-silence, between the lines of dialogue: the sounds of birdsong, or the rustle of clothing, or footfalls in a country lane" swoons the Guardian (5 stars). "When you consider the pitfalls of making a film about a poet... there are no thousand-yard stares as the verses boom in voiceover, no clunky lines à la, "You'll be the greatest poet of the 19th century, Keats!", and no silly links of poem to image" concurs the Independent (4 stars). But you can't please all the people all the time, and the Times rages that Keats, "a vital aesthetic touchstone for all debates about transient life versus immortal art, is reduced to a whimpering scribbler with a bad cough" (1 star).
If you want to know what the fuss about this year's Oxford Street lights is about, head to the cinema to see the Disney animated A Christmas Carol. You know the plot: the old tale of a miser being taught the spirit of Christmas via the medium (heh) of three ghosts. But "there is something very wrong here. Stories from the pen of Dickens should chug along comfortably like a steam train, not hurtle headlong at the speed of a supersonic jet on test manoeuvres" frets the Times (2 stars). Robert Zemeckis directs and has gone down his Polar Express / Beowulf stylistic route of motion capturing the actors, and then he's made it all 3D. It's "a holiday season novelty" says Empire (3 stars), perhaps not quite enough to wipe the many other versions from our minds, but with Jim Carrey playing Scrooge and the ghosts "flinging his voice up and down registers with hammy verve" (Telegraph, 3 stars), there are still "many wonders and a series of weathered and withered faces of which Dickens himself would have been proud" (Evening Standard, 3 stars).
You may have heard that Jennifer's Body has been the subject of an enormous backlash against writer Diablo Cody after her phenomenal success with Juno. But the reviews we've seen happily focus on the film, about a high school bitch (Megan Fox) turned into a literal man-eater. "The movie wants the scariness to imbibe the all-too-real horror of being a teenager, and convey a Carrie's-time-of-the-month blast of fear" (Guardian, 3 stars), but "director Karyn Kusama resolutely fails to deliver any tension" (Empire, 3 stars). "There's the occasional spiky moment... But after the quick-fire wit of Juno, this is disappointing" concludes the Independent (2 stars).
Of Paper Heart, the Evening Standard believes "either you will find this cheaply made American independent docudrama charming or faintly irritating" (2 stars). Comedian Charlyne Yi decides she doesn't really believe in love and gathers her celebrity mates (including boyfriend Michael Cera) to muse on its nature, as well as interviewing bikers, judges and other definite 'types'. The Times damns it for being "whimsical, solipsistic and self-indulgent" (2 stars), while the Independent agrees it "wobbles briefly on a tightrope between sincerity and cuteness before plunging headlong to a death-by-whimsy" (2 stars).
A hip-hop gang musical set in Birmingham? Why not. Dealer Flash was supposed to be taking care of a stash of money while Angel was in prison - but instead, he's been spending it, which is a problem when Angel is released and wants it back. 1 Day is "by turns gloomy, frenzied, downbeat and violently melodramatic" (Guardian, 3 stars) and "impressively non-moralistic, just showing us how it is. That may be why Birmingham's cinemas have refused to show it" (Evening Standard, 3 stars). But while the "scenarios feel authentic, lacklustre musical numbers and humdrum dialogue mean this is far less characterful than [director Penny] Woolcock's other work" says Empire (2 stars).
In 1964, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot started work on L'Enfer, "a wildly experimental work, a Hitchcockian, proto-Kubrickian extravaganza which led him into a creative menopausal breakdown" (Guardian, 4 stars). The film was never made, but now we have Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, a documentary that is "up there with Lost in La Mancha as a glorious chronicle of film-making folly" (Times, 4 stars). The film not only looks at what went wrong - "the director, having alienated cast and crew with his obsessive behaviour, then suffered a heart-attack - but it also unearths footage of camera tests and experiments in kinetic art and colouration that suggest how very remarkable the film might have been" (Independent, 3 stars).
Bilal is a Kurdish teenager stuck in Calais, dreaming of a Welcome in Britain and of playing in the Premier League. He's so determined, he's going to try and swim the Channel. While the subject may not be entirely new, "this is compassionate and humane film-making" (Times, 3 stars), and "realistic in tone, if a little melodramatic in material" (Empire, 3 stars). "What keeps it afloat are the sharp performances, together with a pungent, docu-style portrait of the dockyards where the bundled, shivering immigrants stand waiting" says the Guardian (3 stars).
Next week: expect the end of the fricking world in 2012, Michael Caine on vigilante form in Harry Brown and festival tales in Taking Woodstock.