Ruby Sparks * * * *
Cert 15, 104 mins
While she’s been in a few films, I had never heard of 29-year-old Zoe Kazan before this movie.
But she’s certainly made her mark now. Her first effort at screenwriting has resulted in Ruby Sparks, in which she also plays the title role.
From the trailer, you’d be expecting a kooky comedy like 1985’s Weird Science. And it is quirky in parts, but it’s more serious and interesting than that, getting quite dark at times.
Paul Dano (Kazan’s real-life boyfriend) plays Calvin, a high school dropout hailed as a genius when he wrote a bestseller at the age of 18.
But that was 10 years ago and a second hit book has not been forthcoming since.
He’s a loner, with no friends and only his dog, brother Harry (Chris Messina) and his therapist Dr Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) for company.
But then inspiration strikes through Ruby, who is literally his dream girl. He dreams about her one night and starts writing about her.
“I’m writing to spend time with her, I’m falling in love with her,” Calvin confesses to Harry. “But she’s not real, she’s a product of my imagination.”
Or is she? He thinks he’s going mad when the pretty redhead turns up, half naked in his kitchen, saying “I missed you in bed last night”.
The thing is, other people can see her too. So they embark on a rather odd relationship, in which he can make her do things, like speak fluent French, just by typing it. But what starts out as a wonderful romance gets more tricky as reality hits home.
The film is gently amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s just a little too quirky, like the fact that Calvin uses an old-fashioned typewriter.
The good cast includes Steve Coogan as a fellow writer, who just seems to be playing himself, Annette Bening as his hippy mother and Antonio Banderas as his stepfather.
And the script is really rather good, especially for a newcomer. Ruby Sparks is well worth seeing, but it’s best to go in without any preconceptions. RL
Hit And Run * * *
Cert 15, 99 mins
Bradley Cooper has been voted the sexiest man in the world, but you’d never know it from this film.
He’s almost unrecognisable, with horrible ratty ginger dreadlocks, a paunch and nasty leisure wear.
He’s also far from the smooth hero he usually plays in films – now he’s a violent bank robber and not a nice man. He is funny though, wryly delivering some good lines.
Cooper completely steals the show in a film which would otherwise be a starring vehicle for Dax Shepard and his fiancée Kristen Bell. Shepard has written and directed it and plays the lead of Charlie Bronson.
He’s in a witness protection programme, thanks to testifying against criminals, but is willing to risk his life by returning to Los Angeles when his girlfriend Annie (Bell) gets her dream job there.
He drives her there in his classic 1967 Lincoln Continental which he’s built himself, but hot on his wheels is Alex (Cooper), against whom he gave evidence in court and who now wants revenge.
Hit and Run is not without its problems. It starts slowly and only improves when Cooper appears.
It also can’t decide what it wants to be – it’s part comedy, part thriller and part chase movie, lurching from philosophising about relationships and racism to farce to violence.
Tom Arnold is irritating as an idiot of a Marshall, but Kristin Chenoweth is amusing. The cars get a lot of airtime, either talking about various models or racing them, with more wheel spins than a whole series of Top Gear.
Hit and Run is certainly hit and miss, but it had just about won me over by the time it ended. See it if you’re a petrolhead or a fan of Cooper. RL
Last Shop Standing * * * *
Cert 12A, 49 mins
Though much shorter than a standard feature length film, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching this touring documentary and leaving feeling short changed.
It’s a love letter to the days when record shops were more than just places which sold vinyl – they were coming of age parlours, self-discovery music labs, business launchpads, social centres and Aladdin’s caves all rolled into one.
In the 1980s, there were more than 2,200 independent record shops in the UK, today there are 269 following the demise of the oldest shop in England this year, CE Hudson (1906-2012) of Chesterfield.
Directed by Kings Heath-based Pip Piper, Last Shop Standing will provoke a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
There’s the sheer, nostalgic joy of recalling the treasures and resources we once shared – and the despair of nearly losing it all thanks to an industry which was ‘shot by its own deviousness and relentless pursuit of money’.
Listening to people who sold records to the Beatles before they were famous is as astonishing as hearing how the industry sowed its own seeds of destruction through everything from chart rigging to the drive for supermarket sales.
The quotes are wonderful, from ‘We couldn’t believe a gang of people who used to come into the shop could become so famous (The Beatles)’, to ‘A chap came in asking for Rock Around the Clock and within a week had to order 500’.
Few talking heads movies have ever been this much fun. It’s also nice to see a handful of stars like Billy Bragg and Paul Weller by the shelves, too, fostering the idea we could meet a pioneering hero in one of these places.
Industry expert Graham Jones, whose book is the source material and title for this film rolled into one, is more upbeat than he might have dared to be a few years ago.
“Because vinyl is doing so well I feel it’s the future for independent record stores,” he says.
“Instead of feeling the record store is about to die, I’m full of hope for the future.” GY
On The Road * *
Cert 15, 124 mins
With a requirement for vast numbers of classic cars, this new film from Brazilian Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) is one of the most ambitious period pieces since Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (2008).
An adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, it’s a sex, drugs and jazz story about a young writer in the late 1940s and early 1950s as he travels around the US in a heady cloud of marijuana smoke.
On The Road’s conversion to screen might look good in terms of landscapes, but as a character-driven piece it flits from here to there like a dazed blue bottle fly.
Tron star Garrett Hedlund is charismatic as the manipulative Dean, though he looks too much like a young Rhys Ifans next to British star Sam Riley (Control) who plays would-be writer Sal Paradise.
Both have haircuts which look too modern and unchanging over the extended featured period and, while Yorkshire-born Riley travels well considering his roots, he’s not as impressive as US star Dakota Fanning was over here in the recent Now Is Good.
Kristen Stewart (Marylou) throws off the sexual restrictions of the Twilight series to be much more daring, but to little effect in context. Big stars Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen and Terrence Howard are all underused to the point that after more than two hours I felt like I’d been watching The Numb Diaries more than a Tarmac-gripping thriller. GY
Barbara * * *
Cert 12A, 105 mins
One of the best films of this century to date is the East Germany-based Stasi thriller The Lives of Others (2006).
So I had high hopes for Barbara, the 1980 story of Dr Barbara Wolff, a Berlin paediatrician whose reward for applying for a visa is to be sent to a rural East German hospital along the Baltic coast east of Lübeck.
While she waits for lover from the West to help her to escape, she carries on treating a range of patients including a girl suffering with ticks.
Director Christian Petzold has fashioned a superby-crafted paranoia story which won him the best director prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and a Best Foreign Film submission for the Oscars next year.
Nina Hoss is wonderfully restrained in the leading role and the film has some memorable moments when it threatens to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But while its deeply-layered topics include issues of life, humanity, love, loyalty, intelligence, health and career choices beneath a suffocating cloak of personal security fears, it lacks a crucial change of pace.
You might also see the end coming from a fair distance, but at least it will make you think en route. GY