Get In The Ring
We take a look at the highly anticipated releases hitting cinema screens on Boxing Day
Boxing Day is traditionally one of the most successful weekends for cinema releases in the calender year. In previous years, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Happy Feet, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Sherlock Holmes were all jostling for top spot at the Box Office.
This year, Filmink will examine the Boxing Day releases this year, from wide releases like Meet the Parents: Little Fockers and Gulliver's Travels to more indie fare like Blue Valentine and Life During Wartime.
Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance, Palace Films, 112 mins)
Thanks to an opaque, yet moving screenplay and two of the year's most disciplined and frank performances, co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine towers over most relationship dramas. Inspired by the work of the French New Wave and American auteur John Cassavetes, co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine is a dark, confronting adult drama. With finely wrought performances from indie stars Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Wendy and Lucy), Blue Valentine is tender and challenging, detailing the contrasts between the birth and death of a marriage with personalised, highly emotive storytelling. The film is also visually sophisticated: trading heavily in dramatic and visual contrast, as Andrij Parekh's cinematography sketches the nostalgic past in handheld 16mm whilst the merciless present is reflected in the precise, detached Red Digital camera.
Gulliver's Travels (dir. Rob Letterman, 20th Century Fox, 85 mins) Let's be honest: expectations were never going to be particularly high for an American modernisation of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (especially as directed by Monsters vs. Aliens' Rob Letterman). However, this is still a minor letdown for fans of funny-man Jack Black hoping for something of a return to form for the increasingly unimpressive comedian. Perhaps it is the hackneyed writing (supplied - in part - by Get Him to the Greek director, Nicholas Stoller) or maybe Black is struggling to bring any freshness to his performances. But gone is the energetic and funny actor of High Fidelity and School of Rock, replaced by a boring and predictable comic too heavily reliant on his established ticks (eyebrow-raising, dancing, sing-song speech). The majority of the film is similarly uninspired: Letterman - heavily dependent on the broadest of gags - is not much of a storyteller or visual artist, despite his relatively comfortable handling of the 3D effects.
HeartBreaker (dir. Pascal Chaumeil, Hopscotch Films, 104 mins)
The French ‘blockbuster' HeartBreaker is one of the strangest romantic comedies of recent memory. An attempt by former ad-man director Pascal Chaumeil and a trio of writers to rejig the ‘high concept' American rom-com for French audiences, HeartBreaker offers little in the way of charm or laughs. French actor Romain Duris (The Beat My Heart Skipped, Paris) is a professional ‘heartbreaker,' hired by meddling friends and families to break up relationships, until - of course - he falls for one of his clients/victims (Vanessa Paradis) who is about to marry a nice guy British philanthropist (Andrew Lincoln). The film has nice touches: Paradis is lovely as the strong, but uncertain woman with doubts about her upcoming nuptials and Lincoln (formerly of The Life and Teachers) makes for a surprisingly suave and credible leading man. However, Duris - perhaps fighting his own miscasting as a romantic lead or his discomfort with the broad expectations of the genre - over-eggs the role of ‘loveable rogue' shamelessly in the film's many obvious beats and the film has many uncomfortable moments, usually supplied by Duris' unfunny and unpleasant side-kicks.
The King's Speech (dir. Tom Hooper, Paramount Pictures, 118 mins) More bluntly emotive than intellectually challenging, the unconventionally photographed and beautifully written The King's Speech offers much in the way of witty, understated humour and genuine emotion alá the Peter Morgan-scripted The Queen and Frost/Nixon. In depicting the growing relationship between the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth) and his Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), director Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen (This is England, The Boat That Rocked) find an unconventional framing style to suggest the price-turned-king's fear of public speaking, deploying wide angle lenses for effective results. Yet the film - wonderfully well written by television writer David Seidler - also evokes tenderness as well, helped by another fine score from the always-impressive Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, A Prophet). The cast is also in top form: Firth and Rush share a poignant rapport, Helena Bonham-Carter gives perhaps her warmest performance as George's wife and Guy Pearce brings witty, vacuous charm to George's older brother.
Life During Wartime (dir. Todd Solondz, Transmission Films, 94 mins) Todd Solondz modulates the mordant tone of Happiness for a more richly reflective and unexpectedly sombre sequel. Eschewing the absurd, darkly amusing shock tactics of the original, Life During Wartime not only changes the original cast (Michael K Williams, Paul Reubens and Ciarán Hinds replace Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jon Lovitz and Dylan Baker, respectively), but also presents the characters' pain more mournfully this time around. This is especially evident in Hinds' melancholy depiction of regret as the recently released paedophile seeking forgiveness from his now-grown son. In fact, all the actors are very good, vindicating Solondz's decision to recast his key players. Largely dependant on a strong recollection of the original, Life During Wartime is, ultimately, a very rewarding and successful sequel.
Meet the Parents: Little Fockers (dir. Paul Weitz, Paramount Pictures, 98 mins) Although Ben Stiller has aged nicely into middle age and offers a believable centre in the middle of any situation, the Meet the Parents franchise has truly worn out its comic possibilities with this tired entry. Rather, this film is overstuffed with a surplus of subplots and extended cameos from actors who mug shamelessly (Harvey Keitel is particularly culpable, with only Owen Wilson earning laughs). Still, it is difficult to blame the actors since director Paul Weitz - a once promising filmmaker (In Good Company, About a Boy) - asks nothing of his performers other than to enact the broadest of gags from a ludicrous screenplay, which confuses actual jokes for characters saying things like "Godfocker," "Gregfocker" and "Bobfather." A lot.
Sarah's Key (dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner, Madman Entertainment, 111 mins) Sarah's Key is an excellent French film about the Holocaust, offering a more challenging depiction of post-War guilt than Stephen Daldry's similarly themed - and structured - The Reader. As French Jews are being sent to concentration camps, Sarah (fantastic child actor Melusine Mayance) hides her little brother in their cupboard, which protects - but also traps - him when she and her family are transported away. A very good Kristin Scott-Thomas is a modern journalist attempting to piece together her own connection with Sarah. Sarah's Key - directed by Paquet-Brenner, whose cool, elegant handling of past and present time-shifts recalls later Jonathan Demme - has some of the accomplishment of an American production with the intimacy of European filmmaking, offering a string of top performances from a familiar cast (joining Scott-Thomas is A Prophet's Niels Arestrup, Frederic Pierrot and a multilingual Aidan Quinn).
Somewhere (dir. Sofia Coppola, Universal Pictures, 98 mins) Somewhere continues writer-director Sofia Coppola's interest in the isolating effect of wealth. Like in her previous efforts Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, Coppola focuses on the interactions between her characters and their relationship with their environment with muted absurdity. With a screenplay only 44 pages, Coppola stretches out sequences with long, Antonioni-like takes, pausing to reflect on some of the characters' loneliness and disconnection despite (or because of?) their enviable privilege. Moreover, the Jack Nicholson-like Stephen Dorff makes the most of his comeback performance, projecting an amiable sincerity in scenes with on-screen daughter Elle Fanning (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
The Tourist (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Sony Pictures, 103 mins) This pedigreed remake of French thriller Anthony Zimmer is a major disappointment from German humanist, von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others). Courtesy of the director and Oscar-winning writers Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), the dialogue is forced and unconvincing and many of the set-pieces are clumsily organised, not helped by the editing which often steps on the punchline. The disunity also extends to the performances: Johnny Depp is nowhere near as scrappily charming as predecessor Yvan Attal, Angelina Jolie is boringly cast as a femme fatale, Paul Bettany is forced to tackle ludicrous character turns, Steven Berkoff is typecast as a generic European gangster and Rufus Sewell - a Shakespearian-trained actor - is asked to do nothing more than smirk in lavish locations.