Life Of Pi * * * *
Cert PG, 127 mins
Life of Pi is nothing if not an international production. It’s a film set in India and the Pacific Ocean, by a Taiwanese director, adapted from a bestseller by a Spanish-born Canadian, and featuring British and French actors.
It’s an extraordinary film from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, who always brings us good-looking movies but who has excelled himself here.
What unfolds is the incredible story of Pi and Richard Parker, cast adrift at sea together in a lifeboat for 227 days. What is especially remarkable is that Pi is a teenage boy and Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger.
It’s told in flashback form, with a grown up Pi (Irrfan Khan) telling his story to writer Rafe Spall, who has a slightly odd Canadian accent.
Pi grew up in the French part of India and was named after a swimming pool – his name is short for Piscine.
His parents run a zoo, in which Richard Parker – so-named because of a clerical error – is the star attraction. His father warns him: “The tiger is not your friend.”
When they run into financial difficulties, they sell up and ship all the animals to North America.
On board the ship is a rude French chef, played with dry humour by Gerard Depardieu but who makes only a fleeting appearance.
Then, not far off the Philippines, a storm hits and the ship sinks. Pi is the only person to escape on a lifeboat that also contains a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan – until Richard Parker makes short work of them.
Visually, Life of Pi is like nothing you have ever seen at the cinema. It deserves to be viewed on the big screen, especially as it has probably the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen in a film. The tiger is simply magnificent. Only occasionally is it obvious that it’s computer generated. And Manchester United fan Suraj Sharma does very well in his acting debut.
For me, there is too much talk of religion and spiritual quests. Pi is a Catholic Hindu who also dabbles in Islam and declares that “faith is a house with many rooms”.
Life of Pi’s beautiful images will stay with me for a while, though I’m not so sure about its story.
The fact it is told in flashback means we always know Pi survives, although – if you haven’t read the book – we don’t know how or what happens to Richard Parker.
We are left to make up our own minds about what to believe, but for me it stretched my suspension of disbelief too far. Particularly when we are asked to accept a floating carnivorous island.
Perhaps you need an unshakeable faith and the ability to believe in fantastical stories to really appreciate it. RL
Pitch Perfect * * * *
Cert 12A, 107 mins
I’ve spent the last few days mulling over the list of movies I’ve seen in 2012, ready for next week’s round-up of our Films of the Year.
As I always do, I’ve divided them up into categories before making my final decision.
One of the things that is readily apparent is what a poor year it has been for comedy.
Just when we’ve all needed a laugh to take our minds off so many bad news events, light-hearted movies have been few and far between on the silver screen.
To pump up the list, I’ve even been wondering whether to include films like Sightseers (serial killers), Taken 2 (one man war machine) and Seven Psychopaths (‘nuff said) in the list.
So a hearty Christmas welcome then for Pitch Perfect, which will put a more caring and sharing emphasis on festivities than you might have imagined.
Of course, it’s a boys v girls thing and you could be forgiven for thinking you are in for the cinematic equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor.
But it’s more than that in a film beautifully directed by newcomer Jason Moore (Dawson’s Creek), from Kay Cannon’s loose adaptation of a book by former GQ senior editor Mickey Rapkin.
First and foremost, this is simply a Glee-style comedy drama about two a cappella singing groups at high school.
The fact that it is competitive without being indescribably bitchy and nasty is a breath of fresh air.
There’s a nude shower scene which is out of place, but otherwise this is never as sexualised as the strippers’ film Magic Mike, and the story makes a lot more sense than Halloween offering, Fun Size.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) arrives at Barden College dreaming of becoming a music producer.
Thanks to her father insisting she gets involved with campus life she joins The Bellas.
Aubrey (Anna Camp) was sick during last year’s finals and insists the girls stick to 90s classics despite Chloe (Brittany Snow) sharing a more open mind with Beca about their future direction.
The boys include Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass) as Tommy and, sailing dangerously close to annoying Junior Jack Black territory, Adam DeVine as Bumper.
With Fat Amy (Bridesmaids’ Rebel Wilson) on self-deprecating top form as a girl who knows how to beat the bullies, Pitch Perfect is the most musical fun we’ve had since Hairspray (2007).
Bang a drum! GY
Jack Reacher * * * *
Cert 12A, 130 mins
He wrote The Usual Suspects (1995) and directed The Way of the Gun (2000).
But, in the first film he has directed since, New Jersey-born Christopher McQuarrie makes use of his own adaptation of One Shot, a ‘Jack Reacher’ novel by former Birmingham schoolboy Jim Grant turned bestselling author Lee Child.
The result is a tense thriller, underpinned by its own sense of the ridiculous, needlessly complicated by a convoluted corporate set-up and now overshadowed by the gross misfortune to be released on Boxing Day, just 12 days after the senseless Connecticut school massacre.
Just watching the opening sequence is to sit uncomfortably in your seat as a sniper trains a high velocity rifle telescope on a succession of potential victims on the other side of a river.
A man in a suit. A businesswoman. A mother carrying a child.
That he might want to shoot any of them is an abhorrent thought at this time of the year, even more so after the events in Newtown on December 14.
Are we here for a liberal, intellectual analysis of what makes men kill?
Or, given that Tom Cruise is in the title role, for titillating entertainment?
We expect the latter, but, suddenly, wish it was the former.
Concentrated further by a heavy duty score from Joe Kraemer (The Way of the Gun), the heavy duty beginning doesn’t feel like this is your average 12A movie.
By the end, you’ll be wondering why it’s not even an 18.
Reacher himself is an elusive, interestingly amoral character – a former Military policeman decorated with a Purple heart turned drifter with the means of finding things out.
And enforcing his own brand of justice.
Former Die Another Day Bond girl Rosamund Pike (Helen) and district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) have a peculiar relationship in terms of their respective legal approaches to the case of ‘the shooter’, while Oxford-born former Spooks’ star David Oyelowo (Emerson) is a detective who is never far away.
With an obvious suspect already caught, what are their respective agendas?
In the novels, Reacher is 6ft 5in, so fans might find it hard to swallow Tom Cruise in the title role.
But in order to carry off a script with this degree of fantasy built in, you need a star who can do it.
And the one with the Austro-American accent who might have had a sniff 20 years ago is now too far past his box office sell-by date to count.
So Cruise it is.
Still fit enough to do his own stunts. Still young enough, at times like the early corridor scene, to look like a cocky twentysomething.
Overall, Jack Reacher feels a touch long at 130 minutes, but it has enough twists and surprises in store to survive its own sideways shunts into the gun lobby debate.
So don’t shoot the messenger. It’s not Tom Cruise’s fault that mind-numbing reality can sometimes take the fun out of a trip to the pictures. GY