Robot & Frank (2012)

robotfrankIf Amour and Trouble With The Curve didn’t float your OAP boat, how about this for a pitch – Frank Langella goes on crime spree with adorable robotic butler. That may sound more like something Michael Bay would direct, but fear not, Robot & Frank is less concerned with blowing shit up and more comfortable with gentle humour, heartfelt observations and robots that make funnies.

Living in the ‘near future’, 70-year-old Frank (Langella) is having problems with his memory. Residing alone in an isolated wood-side house, his place is a tip and his grown-up kids only seem to communicate with him via the TV-phone. When he refuses to move into a ‘memory centre’ (read: retirement home), Frank’s son (James Marsden) comes up with an innovative solution: give dad a robot butler.

A hi-tech humanoid with the voice of Peter Sarsgaard, the ’bot wastes no time putting Frank on both a schedule and a diet. Though Frank is initially annoyed at the intrusion (“That thing is gonna murder me in my sleep”), he soon finds a use for the robot as an accomplice in his latest jewel heist.

Admittedly, that last development is a bit of a stretch, but Robot & Frank pulls it off thanks to its infectious, knowing sense of fun. It’s a ‘what if’ for anybody with grumpy old grandparents, and the film offers a frighteningly realistic glimpse at a future where people are even more tech-reliant than they are now. With a nostalgic backward glance, Robot & Frank serves up micro-cars, see-through phones and symphonic orchestras that are scarily plausible.

Tech aside, Langella’s the real marvel here. Acting for the most part against nothing more than an emotionless mannequin, he’s fantastic, playing the cantankerous old man (think Up’s Mr Fredricksen minus the soft edges) with surprising sensitivity. And though first-time feature director Jake Schreier keeps the tone light, he never lets us forget that Frank is mentally fragile – a fact that’s given unexpected poignancy when Frank realises he’ll have to erase his robot’s memory as it’s evidence of his planned heist.

At its core, though, Robot & Frank is a fantastic futuristic buddy caper with an inexhaustibly quotable script (by Comedy Central scribe Christopher D. Ford). It’s full of lovely ideas (check out the scene in which Frank’s robot attempts to parlay with Susan Sarandon’s retro library ’bot), meaning that though Robot & Frank has an android at its centre, its heart is definitely in the right place. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

The Paperboy (2012)

kinopoisk.ruGrainy, sweat-smeared and more kitsch than an Elvis Presley bedspread, The Paperboy has a title that sounds like a made-for-TV Disney movie, but it’s easily the most outrageous film of the year. A kaleidoscope of murder, sex and violence, Lee Daniels’ (Precious) third directorial effort is a swampy oddity as brazen as it is wilfully bizarre.

The year is 1969 and Miami Times reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) has just returned home to Florida with colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) in tow. They’re researching the story of Florida resident Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), a perma-tanned blonde bombshell who’s been writing to a prisoner on death row.

Charlotte’s convinced that inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is innocent of the murder of Sheriff Thurmond Call, and she wants Ward to help her prove it. Roping in younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to help, Ward leads this strange band of truth-seekers into dark, alligator-infested waters.

Adapted from Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel, The Paperboy is a trashy neo-noir populated with the kind of characters that rarely see the light of day in mainstream movies. From Macy Gray’s sardonic, long-suffering housemaid (who also provides a rasping narration) to Kidman’s beautifully complex Barbie, it’s the characters that make Paperboy riveting from start to finish despite a catalogue of sins.

Those sins are, in all honesty, plentiful. Frequently lacking in focus and devoid of tension when it’s needed, Daniels’ film tumbles along making casual remarks about racism and sexuality that never really carry much weight. The film’s often messy, unsure just which story it really wants to tell, and its central mystery is distracting instead of intriguing.

So why the four stars? Well, all of that can be accepted (if not excused) in the captivating presence of The Paperboy’s unconventional players. Efron and Kidman are the heart of the film, both adrift, both toying with conventional ideas of beauty. She enjoys his covetous gazes, in turn playing up to his image of her (according to Gray’s narration) as “his mama, high school sweetheart and an oversexed Barbie doll all at once”. The Paperboy isn’t looking for easy answers; it’s content with the rough and tumble as it deals out killer one-liners and instantly iconic images.

If Efron’s growing maturity impresses, and Kidman’s gung-ho approach thrills, it’s Cusack who’s the real surprise here. Dirty in more ways than one, he’s a revelation as sex-obsessed inmate Hillary, and central to many of Paperboy’s most memorable moments – including a ‘psychic’ sex scene with Kidman that has to be seen to be believed.

Flying its freak flag with pride, Daniels’ film is a weird, mesmerising ball of contradictions, buoyed by the strength of its performances, but also aesthetically gorgeous (it was shot on Super 16, which gives the film a lovely grubby look). It’s sexy, shocking and stylish, and you’ve never seen anything like it. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Zombi-2-Zombie-Flesh-EatersIt was always going to be an oddity. Released as an unofficial (Italian) sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. Directed by a dumped-from-grace Lucio Fulci. Book-ended with New York scenes shot specifically for the overseas market. Zombie Flesh Eaters should have been DOA. The oddest thing by far about this singularly gruesome zombie saga, though, is the considerable artistry in its gore-and-grit-churning tale of the ravenous undead.

A pre-credits sequence hints at what we’re in for. A bound man slowly rises from a bed. A gun is fired. The man’s head implodes with a shock of red that the camera guzzles up as greedily as any flesh-muncher. It’s just the first of many artery-spurting kills, the most famous of which has a young woman impaled through the eyeball (a scene restored when ZFE was finally released uncut in 2005) as zombies overrun the remote community of Matul Island.

If the plentiful gore still shocks, Fulci impresses most with admirable command over his material. Both blood-thirsty and eccentric, ZFE is a curious blend of Giallo and Hammer (check out Richard Johnson’s death-obsessed physician) that’s all hysteria-level thrills – zombies fight sharks, worms writhe in rotting skulls and women scuba-dive topless.

So what if the dubbing’s dreadful, the acting grotty? As it builds to a blazing inferno of a climax, replete with foreboding Big Apple epilogue, Zombie Flesh Eaters’ appetite for destruction is nothing short of exhilarating. 4/5

The Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

George Clooney once branded director David O. Russell “insane to the point of stupidity”, but there’s nothing stupid about the filmmaker’s (often literally) insane ninth feature film. Dealing with crazy-making matters of the heart and mind, it’s a rom-com with fangs that runs like the clappers and, yes, has serious bite.

Much of that comes in the form of buzzing interplay between stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. A bouncing ball of nervous energy, Cooper’s a million miles away from Hangover-land, turning in a career-making performance as recovering mental patient Pat – who’s just been jacked out of the clinic where he was recuperating after losing his shit over his wife’s cheating ways.

With not an overplayed twitch or sentimental spasm in sight, Cooper’s a revelation – raw, searing and impossible not to watch. Where the screen really fizzles, though, is when he’s trading no-nonsense insults with the similarly wacky Lawrence, whose Tiffany has her own shopping list of problems (she’s getting over the death of her husband). These are two people you should never put in a room together, which is of course why they make such riveting viewing when they are.

That Cooper manages to submerse himself so fully in Pat’s world is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is Lawrence’s ability to match and even surpass him. Sharp, brittle, seductive, it’s her most accomplished performance since Winter’s Bone – and not once do you mistake her for Katniss Everdeen.

None of this would work without Russell, whose script – based on Matthew Quick’s book – is as blunt as its two leads and often genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Visually, he keeps his framing loose, the lighting naturalistic (think The Fighter). As Cooper also clashes with pap Robert De Niro (fantastic) and mom Jacki Weaver (perpetually terrified), Russell gives the characters ample room to breathe. It’s an approach that really ramps up the tension – along with some killer song choices – and, yes, there’s even one of Russell’s trademark snapback camera moves, here as effective as ever.

Ignore the clunky title (it hasn’t got much to do with the movie). Though a third act dip prevents Silver Linings Playbook from delivering as a bona fide classic, it contains so many laugh-out-loud, disarmingly honest moments you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. Dizzying as a merry-go-round and about as over-sentimental as an IKEA catalogue, it’s a crowd-pleaser from top to bottom. And just on the right side of crazy. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

Happy Happy (2010)

The hunt for happiness is miserable indeed, not least when it involves the seduction of your married neighbour.

Such is the predicament Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) faces in Anne Sewitsky’s dramedy debut when, weary of her chilly marriage, she cosies up to hunky Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen).

The ensuing drama is typically Scandinavian in the best way possible – the setting’s beautiful, the tensions slow-burning. Meanwhile, musical interludes courtesy of a barbershop quartet lend a playful undertone.

Sweet but never saccharine, Happy Happy is as delicate as Kaja and just as endearing. 4/5

Via Total Film

Premium Rush (2012)

David Koepp has been the brains behind some of Hollywood’s smartest action thrillers, having scripted everything from Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible to Spider-Man and Panic Room. Premium Rush is the scribe’s fifth directing gig and a departure from his brainiest tension-ekers – as the film’s title suggests, Rush is less about the grey matter and more about the intoxicating adrenaline kick.

Set entirely on the streets of New York, Rush follows bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he takes on a job delivering a package for Nima (Jamie Chung). When he’s accosted by Bobby (Michael Shannon), Wilee begins to suspect he’s carrying something very important – a suspicion that’s confirmed when Bobby turns out to be a crooked cop who’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on Wilee’s package (so to speak).

Zipping through the Big Apple on his two-wheeler, Gordon-Levitt is a likeably unconventional action hero. It’s not the kind of role JGL’s best known for, but the one-time Third Rock From The Sun actor has star quality to spare, and he turns the wattage up considerably for a role that’s as lean as the film itself.

Behind the camera, Koepp generally knows what he’s doing, too. The visuals are sleek and inventive, with tongue-in-cheek ‘hazard prediction’ sequences recalling Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. Taking its cue from other NY-lover /Spider-Man/, Rush looks gorgeous and its sun-soaked streets vibrate with a fist-pumping soundtrack that includes The Who and My Chemical Romance.

You’ll want to leave your brain at the door, though – Rush’s attempts at a city-wide conspiracy are ambitious at best, convoluted at worst. When it comes to humour and breathless action, though, it generally delivers the goods. Fittingly, Koepp’s film is not unlike a sugar rush – it’s fun while it lasts, but it’s pretty forgettable once it’s over.  3/5

Via Out In The City

360 (2012)

Short Cuts did it. Magnolia did it. Even the deplorable likes of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve did it. Now there’s 360, the latest film to take the concept of jigsaw storytelling – one that follows the courses of numerous interconnecting lives – and run with it across the globe for a pleasingly transcontinental tale of passion and betrayal. Think of it as the anti-Love Actually; a smorgasbord of misery, love and pain that occasionally grips but never rivets.

Of the numerous intertwining strands, Anthony Hopkins’ is the most interesting simply because he is Anthony Hopkins. We meet him aboard a plane (thankfully not serving a child brains a la Hannibal) as he travels to Phoenix to identify a young woman who could be his missing daughter. As stories go, it’s not exactly a screamer, but what we do get is Hopkins quietly effusing like only he can during a five-minute monologue. It’s a timely reminder of what a fine actor he truly is.

That segment is 360’s emotional zenith. Sadly, the film’s myriad other plots, which sweep from Vienna to Paris to London, often fail to rouse. Rachel Weisz is particularly underserved as a cheating wife whose husband (Jude Law) is also tempted to stray. The fact that their plotline is invested with the emotional wallop of a wet flan is mostly due to the nature of the film, which splits its time between so many globe-trotting characters that it can’t help but feel thin on the ground.

Director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) does try, though, and 360 possesses certain admirable qualities. For a start, there’s an anarchic glee to seeing a cast of impressive unknowns given 50% more screen time than headlining stars like Weisz and Law. Vladimir Vdovichenkov in particular is attention-grabbing as Sergei, a bodyguard to a wild-tempered gangster who’s going through something of a mid-life crisis. His segment closes out the film, and finally gives us some excitement – though it’s pretty much too little too late.

Consider 360 a hit-and-miss experiment. There are the occasional nice touches (a ringtone that functions as a scene’s tension-eking soundtrack) and Ben Foster is magnetic as ever playing a released sex offender stranded in a busy airport. The likes of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson worked the concept far harder in their time, though, and 360 suffers under such obvious comparisons. It’s a film that chases its own tale for 100 minutes, leaving little impression once the credits have rolled. 2/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

The Dinosaur Project (2012)

Though it’s desperate to be the next Jurassic Park, there’s little Spielbergian bite to this low-budget Brit flick.

Instead we get wobbly cameras and equally wobbly acting from a cast of unknowns as a group of explorers hunt dinos in the Congo.

The found-footage hook is starting to feel pretty ancient, and the human drama is patchy at best, but Dinosaur Project is entertainingly silly.

Its money shots generally impress, and the breakneck pace bounds over a multitude of sins – including Park’s deadly dilophosaurus getting a makeover as a cute little critter that’ll have the nippers cooing. 3/5

Via Total Film

The Lucky One (2012)

Just glancing at the syrupy plot synopsis for The Lucky One should have you clutching desperately for the insulin. Ex-High School Musical star Zac Efron is Logan Thibault, a Marine who’s served three tours in Iraq. After surviving numerous scrapes with death, Logan attributes his good fortune to the picture of a mysterious woman that he discovered in a bombsite.

Back on home turf, Logan sets out to track down the woman in the photo, Beth (Taylor Schilling), and winds up working with her and her grandmother (Blythe Danner) at their idyllic dog shelter.

If you’re still here, you’re either an Efron groupie or a hopeless weepie-lover. The Lucky One is resolutely targeted at the Notebook crowd, and Efron is clearly looking to ape the success that Ryan Gosling had after beefing up that Rachel McAdams tear-jerker. The similarities don’t end there. Both Notebook and Lucky One are based on impossibly romantic Nicholas Sparks novels, and both depict implausibly flawless man.

Efron’s Logan is almost robotically perfect. He’s good with kids, animals and his hands. His biceps are as bulging as his eyes are blue. He can even play the piano. “No guy could ever be this good,” notes Beth, and she’s right. Logan feels like a composite of an ideal lover – sensitive but strong, introverted by confident – and he exists solely to rescue Beth from her problems.

It’s Danner to the rescue, then, Gwynnie’s mum grounding proceedings with an earthy likeability. And despite the predictable drama, Lucky One squeezes in a few surprises. It’s almost impossible not to fall for its apple pie charms – not least when it’s got a lead as pretty as Efron – and The Lucky One is cosy, familiar and undemanding. It also features some of the best dog acting since The Artist’s Uggie. 3/5

Via Out In The City