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

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

Charlie St. Cloud (2010)

Zac Efron graduates during an early scene in Charlie St. Cloud. But it’s best you take that literally rather than figuratively – Disney’s former golden boy may have strayed into tear duct-bothering drama with this adaptation of Ben Sherwood’s novel, but he’s not quite shot of the Mouse House yet.

Reuniting with 17 Again director Burr Steers, Efron is the eponymous St. Cloud. Perfect right down to his baby blues and innie belly button, he’s the boat-sailing brother you always dreamed of having: sensible, playful, sensitive. Quids in, then, for younger sibling Sam (Charlie Tahan), who Charlie fauns over like a father (spit-brushing his hair, coaching him in baseball). “God, that boy is just too good!” gripes future love interest Tess (Amanda Crew), and you almost feel her pain.

Fast-forward five years and Charlie’s now totally certifiable. Sam’s been killed in a car crash. Charlie is drifting, talking to dead people and working as a gardener instead of following his dreams. Are his visions of his dearly departed bro’ a result of Charlie’s splintered psyche, or is something altogether more mysterious afoot?

So far so absorbing. Wince-inducing dialogue aside (“We can’t put life on hold, Charlie, it doesn’t wait for us,” advises blink-and-miss mum Kim Basinger early on), Charlie St. Cloud begins brisk and breezy – all Lord of the Rings scenery and brotherly banter. Even the traumatic incident that claims Sam’s life is deftly handled, as Steers allows the crunch of metal and the splatters of blood to hit us right in the face (you’ll be glad it’s not in 3D).

But while this no-holds-barred approach initially works, it soon drives the film into histrionic waters. A third act U-turn feels forced, destabilising the drama that came before, while further squallier happenings at the film’s climax unmoor St. Cloud entirely.

Not that blame can be heaped on Efron. Quite the opposite – the 22-year-old attacks the material fearlessly, offering his most mature performance to date. It’s a definite move in the right direction to complement Me and Orson Welles. Sadly, the dire-logue descends into such tediousness that only plucky Brit Augustus Prew (think Aaron Johnson crossed with Russell Brand) manages to buoy it with his off-kilter cock-er-nee delivery. It’s the kind of ‘listen carefully!’ discourse typical of the very tepid teen flicks that Efron is clearly straining to escape.

Not a total wreck, then, with central younglings Efron, Crew and Prew easily shouldering their dramatic share. But in its desperation to move audience members to tears, Charlie St. Cloud forgets to foster a heart for itself.

Anticipation: Efron ditched the Footloose remake for this. Good sign? 3

Enjoyment: Expansive location shots lend Charlie St. Cloud an elegant aura that’s as easy on the eye as its lovely young stars, but the script needed more of a buff. 2

In Retrospect: Efron excels, proving he’s leading-man material. But sign-post scoring and drill-‘em-home emotional beats weigh things down. Rubbish ending, too. 3

Via Little White Lies