CARNAGE * * * *
Cert 15, 79 minutes
It started life in 2006 as a play, God of Carnage, by French writer Yasmina Reza, whose previous major hit was Art.
Both plays are set in just one room, feature very few people – three in Art, four in Carnage – and boast sharply funny lines and moments of farce.
Now turned into a film by Roman Polanski, Carnage also benefits from having a quartet of excellent actors.
It starts with the only action that takes place outside a Brooklyn apartment. We watch from a distance as two 11-year-old boys have a fight in park and one, armed with a stick, hits his friend in the face.
Then cut to their parents meeting up to discuss the issue. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) seem remarkably calm about the fact their son Ethan has been left with scars and minus two teeth, but they want to appear as liberal-minded parents willing to talk it out instead of having a knee-jerk reaction.
Though it doesn’t take long for their true feelings to come out.
Similarly, the parents of protagonist Zachary, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) start out as conciliatory, even though they clearly don’t feel their son is entirely to blame.
The discussion soon gets on to other areas besides parenting, as the cracks within the marriages start to show. Then, as the men bond over Ivanhoe and malt whisky, it becomes more of men versus women battle.
Nancy is particularly frustrated that workaholic lawyer Alan keeps breaking off to talk on his phone. Waltz pretty much steals the show as the obnoxious man who laughs at others’ misfortunes.
Carnage feels rather too much like a play at times, with its lack of movement, and the script gets a little bogged down when they start discussing philosophical concepts of family and community.
I couldn’t help agreeing when Michael tells his pretentious wife: “Enough with the high falutin’ claptrap.”
But the benefit of a film over a play is that we can always catch the best of the characters’ facial expressions and reactions. And although it’s so dialogue heavy, several lines are laugh-out-loud witty, and it’s fun to watch the veneer of civilized chat break down.
Short and bittersweet, it actually feels a little too brief at less than 80 minutes – and I doubt the characters would get drunk so quickly – but far better that than it dragging on. RL
MAN ON A LEDGE
* * *
Cert 12A, 102 minutes
It’s a strange thing to say, but the actor at the centre of the world’s most runaway box office sensation could do with a hit.
Surrey-born Australian Sam Worthington led the line well in Avatar, but only after James Cameron had stretched his features and turned his face blue. Jake Scully could almost have been played by anybody.
Worthington’s other recent movies, Terminator Salvation, Clash of the Titans, The Debt, Last Night and Texas Killing Fields have either under-performed at the box office or been plain awful.
It seems an odd choice, then, that he’d want to spend most of this movie literally standing on a ledge for a debut director called Asger Leth.
The result is a heist movie with a difference, with Worthington’s character Nick Cassidy testing our head for heights above the streets of Manhattan.
Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell and Ed Burns are among the quality supporting cast, but they all get too much to do at Worthington’s expense without having quite enough to steal the picture.
Joel Shumacher’s Phone Booth was set on terra firma a decade ago, yet it induced far more tension in viewers.
Man On A Ledge is perfectly watchable and includes a niftily-filmed cemetery chase, but there’s little here that we haven’t seen before. GY
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
* * *
Cert PG, 94 minutes
In 2008, Sean (Josh Hutcherson) journeyed to the centre of the earth. Now he’s in search of another fabled Jules Verne location which he believes is fact, not science fiction.
After picking up a coded message in a radio signal, he believes he has the co-ordinates for Verne’s Mysterious Island, which also happens to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels.
Sean thinks the message is from his grandfather, explorer Alexander (Michael Caine), and persuades his stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson) to buy them tickets to the South Pacific.
There they take a helicopter with Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), clearly the love interest for Sean.
Hit by a hurricane, the aircraft crashes on the island, which turns out to be a lush tropical wonder full of enormous insects and tiny elephants. Plus a giant lizard, which is actually rather frightening in 3D – it might be worth paying extra for another dimension.
They soon find Caine, who’s enjoying himself hugely dressed as a hunter and taking on the ‘Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park’ type role.
In fact everyone seems to be having a great time, as they cope with everything the island throws at them. The far-fetched fantasy is often ridiculous – wait until you see Caine riding a giant bee – but is fun, and kids will love it. RL
* * *
Cert 15, 94 minutes
Director Jason Reitman’s Juno had four Oscar nominations in 2008 and Up In The Air landed six more two years ago.
But only Juno writer Diablo Cody won the big prize out of all of the above and here she returns, with Reitman, with the story of a woman going backwards in her life.
Big city fiction writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) has recently got divorced.
She then returns to her small Minnesota town looking to pick up with former sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).
Even though he’s now happily married with a new-born daughter, Mavis assumes she’ll soon win him round even though she can barely get up in the morning and likes plenty to drink.
“Buddy used to say that we would make the sweetest little babies, ever,” she whines.
Both Juno and Up in the Air managed to create a sense of optimism from the difficult subjects of teenage pregnancy and job losses.
Young Adult, in contrast, struggles to escape the feeling that what begins in downbeat fashion is unlikely to uplift us along the way.
The film is well directed and acted but even though it’s about little things making people happy, it lacks the kind of current that would make a glider soar.
Charlize Theron is an always highly watchable chameleon, but has never become a true A-list star capable of pulling big audiences in and Young Adult will not have queues out of the door.
Patrick Wilson remains Kevin Costner-lite, potentially charming but relatively dull.
Playing it dead straight, comedy star Patton Oswalt’s rotund character Matt Freehauf who has the best lines about why guys like him, so typically overlooked, might actually have more heart to offer. GY
MARTHA MACEY MAY MARLENE
* * * *
Cert 15, 101 minutes
Her older twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley hit the headlines first, but Elizabeth Olsen might be the one with more talent.
It’s hard to believe the 22-year-old makes her film debut in this movie, as she seems so assured.
She plays the title role of Martha. We’re not quite sure who she is, which is partly the beauty of the movie – you have to be patient to watch the story unfold – and partly its frustrating quality, as we wish more of her history was revealed. It starts with Martha running away from a group of people with whom she’s been living and, in an agitated state, ringing her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to pick her up.
It emerges that Lucy hasn’t heard from her in two years. In fractured flashbacks, we learn how Martha joined a hippy-like cult on a farm, led by charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes).
What he claims is love is sexual abuse. After her first night with him, another girl tells her: “That wasn’t bad, that was truly good. You have to trust us.”
Told she is “cleansing herself of the past”, she goes along with Patrick’s thinking – and even learns how to fire a gun, in line with his barmy philosophy that ‘death is pure love’ – until the group crosses a line.
Martha then finds it hard to adjust to normal life with her sister and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy), and they find it hard to live with someone who eschews clothes and thinks it’s fine to get into bed with them while they’re having sex.
Olsen puts in a fantastic, natural performance in a film which is shocking at times as it builds to a disturbing conclusion. RL
INTRUDERS * *
Cert 15, 100 minutes
A monster which steals children’s faces is the theme of this supernatural horror movie with parallel stories.
One is set in Madrid, the other London – where Coventry-born star Clive Owen tells stories to his 11-year-old daughter Mia (Ella Purnell).
The duality of the premise is unconvincing, any intended shocks as mild as lukewarm water.
Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s restraint is admirable, but his bold attempt to illustrate how demons can be passed through families doesn’t really work given the lack of genuine peril.
Showing at Vue Star City, Intruders might be a horror story without undue histrionics, but it is, quite literally, in need of a face. GY